[Lingtyp] How do typologists use examples in grammars?

Françoise Rose francoise.rose at univ-lyon2.fr
Wed Jun 16 10:15:17 UTC 2021

Dear all,

I will send my answers to Eline in a private message, but I would like to share a recent experience regarding examples in grammars.

I am presently reviewing Lena Terhart’s grammar of Paunaka (a PhD thesis). The author gives this notice regarding how examples are introduced in the grammar:

“One peculiarity of this work is that most examples are introduced by briefly providing
the extralinguistic context. This is usually not done in grammatical descriptions. I
started with this at some point, when I felt that context was necessary for understanding
and then extended it further and further. Thus, the reader will not only learn about
Paunaka, but also gain knowledge about the narratives and personal life stories of the
speakers throughout this work. Whoever is irritated by this is kindly asked to simply
overlook it. »

I generally appreciate a lot when authors add important information on the context of the extract (usually in brackets before the free translation). I was yet planning to be one of the readers who would just overlook these example introductions because my sense was that these introductions would be useful sometimes only (in my view, mainly in sections concerning discourse issues). Actually, it turned out that I appreciate this practice very much: knowing the context very often gives a very clear interpretation to the sentence and strong indications on how the linguistic features under scrutiny works. Also, this is a very strong indication that the linguist perfectly understands what the sentence is about. I can attest that, as a fieldworker on culturally very distinct cultures from mine, I do not always understand the contribution of every sentence to the conversation/narration. Finally, this gives also a sense of familiarity with the culture involved in the grammar, which is extremely pleasant.

Here are two randomly-picked examples from the grammar:

Consider (516), which is about making something fall, just like (510) above. It also comes from a description of the frog story,
but this sentence was produced by Miguel and referred to another picture, the one on which the dog has made the beehive (or: wasp nest) fall.

A similar example comes from María S. who had just stated that smoking is bad
and now provides the reason:

Best to you all,

De : Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> De la part de Eline Visser
Envoyé : lundi 31 mai 2021 15:15
À : lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Objet : [Lingtyp] How do typologists use examples in grammars?

Dear typologists,

I’d like to learn more about how you use the examples given in grammars. I have just finished a grammar myself, and will continue to do descriptive work in the future, and this is a topic that fascinates me. I'm especially interested in knowing if one can discern the traits of a good example (for typological use). I’d be glad if some of you could take the time to answer the questions below, either briefly or elaborately. You can email me the answers. Also, if there’s is anything published on this topic please do let me know.

1. In general, do you prefer short (let’s say <1 line) or longer (> 1 line) examples? Elaborate if you wish.

2. In general, do you have a preference for examples from a certain genre? Which? You can interpret genre broadly or narrowly, in which ever way you like: monologue, dialogue, anecdotes, recipes, hymns, picture-matching tasks…

3. In general, do you have a dispreference for examples of a certain genre?

4. Say you have two examples that illustrate your point equally well. What could be a deciding factor for choosing one over another?

5. Say you can’t find an example that illustrates your point well. On a scale from 1-5, how likely is it that you will go to the language’s corpus or the attached texts in the grammar to find one yourself? (1= very unlikely, 5 = very likely)

6. Anything else you’d like to share about examples in grammars? Feel free to rant.


P.s. For those who ordered a Kalamang grammar hard copy - they’re in Sweden, I’m in Norway, traveling isn’t as easy as I thought yet, so this takes a bit longer than I thought, sorry!

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