[Lingtyp] My new book and other issues

Alexandra Aikhenvald a.y.aikhenvald at live.com
Wed May 26 06:21:27 UTC 2021

Dear colleagues

I would like to share with you all my new general-interest book, I saw the dog: how language works (Profile books) - see the attached flyer and one of the reviews. The book is available on Amazon.com, and can be used for introductory courses in  linguistics/

-  https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/i-saw-a-dog-an-ode-to-languages-and-the-intricacies-of-communication-1.4522211
I Saw a Dog: An ode to languages and the intricacies of communication<https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/i-saw-a-dog-an-ode-to-languages-and-the-intricacies-of-communication-1.4522211>
I Saw a Dog: An ode to languages and the intricacies of communication. Book review: Alexandra Aikhenvald’s breadth of linguistic knowledge fills this study with fascinating nuggets of information

Some of the content of the book was presented in an interview to ABC Radio National Late Line last night -


Alexandra Aikhenvald: one woman's quest to preserve endangered languages - Late Night Live - ABC Radio National<https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/alexandra-aikhenvald:-one-womans-quest-to-preserve-endangered/13355840>
Alexandra Aikhenvald has devoted a lifetime of fieldwork to documenting minority languages, travelling from the swamplands of Papua New Guinea to a remote village in Brazilian Amazonia. She tells ...

Also available at https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2021/05/lnl_20210525_2240.mp3

I would also like to let you-all know that the former Language and Culture Research Centre is undergoing what they call restructure. Bob Dixon and myself have removed ourselves from this and have nothing to do with what is there now.

Best wishes


Warning notice! It has been brought to my attention that a particular person (who calls himself a linguist) has been spreading defamatory rumours and malicious gossip about me. Not to be believed. If you hear from him, could you let me know.

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FAHA, FQAAS

Distinguished Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow

Foundation Director of the Language and Culture Research Centre (James Cook University)

Consultant, OED (South American languages)

phone 61-400305315



alternative e-mail: nyamamayratakw at gmail.com, goldagorb at yahoo.com

Serial Verbs                  The Oxford Handbook of Evidentiality

By Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald                                              Edited By Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

Now available from Oxford University Press<https://global.oup.com/academic/product/serial-verbs-9780198791263?cc=au&lang=en&>                 Now available from Oxford University Press<https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-evidentiality-9780198759515?cc=au&lang=en&>

[Sig1]<https://global.oup.com/academic/product/serial-verbs-9780198791263?cc=au&lang=en&>            [Sig2] <https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-evidentiality-9780198759515?cc=au&lang=en&>

My new book is https://profilebooks.com/work/i-saw-the-dog<https://profilebooks.com/work/i-saw-the-dog/>.

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Eitan Grossman <eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il>
Sent: Thursday, 23 March 2017 6:39 PM
To: Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>
Cc: LINGTYP <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] genifiers (gender markers/classifiers)

Hi all,

With regard to the concern about losing information when abstracting, I think that this is mainly a problem if indeed all typologists did was to say whether a language does or doesn't have a particular category. While it's true that this is a problem in some frameworks (language X has some but not all of the properties associated with account Y of phenomenon Z, therefore X doesn't really "have" Z but rather "pseudo-Z"), this doesn't have to be a problem for typology.

That's because given a broad definition of a phenomenon, one can treat properties of grams/constructions as variables to be typologized over rather than as criteria for belonging to a category. For example, one could (1) say that since a particular construction has to be limited to noun roots, Warembori doesn't "have" incorporation. Or one could say (2) that the nature of the incorporand is not a criterion for whether a given construction is or isn't incorporation, but rather a variable that can have different values. Balthasar Bickel and his colleagues have called this "multivariate analysis," and have applied it to a few domains (for example, clause linkage). Of course, this is also basically what other typologists have always done, e.g., Joan Bybee and her colleagues in their pioneering Evolution of Grammar, where TAM categories were defined explicitly and rather broadly, and then particular functional and formal properties of grams were typologized over, thereby giving typology tremendous insights into the diachronic typology of TAM.

In this way, individual categories in particular languages don't lose their particularity (Bickel argues for this explicitly in his paper on clause-linkage), and typologists have lots of material to work with, with lots of space for new insights about language. To go back to the matter at hand, I think Martin's suggestion of a unified notion of genifiers is a salutary one (and this is orthogonal to the actual name chosen), but it's possible that a more bottom-up approach to typologizing over the properties associated with individual grams in individual languages might lead to a non-arbitrary clustering of properties, thereby alleviating the concern over the arbitrariness of where one puts the cut-off point.


Eitan Grossman
Lecturer, Department of Linguistics/School of Language Sciences
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972 2 588 3809
Fax: +972 2 588 1224

On Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 10:18 PM, Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>> wrote:
I fully agree with Mark on this:

On 22.03.17 00:25, Mark W. Post wrote:

It seems to me that what we're really talking about here is the same thing that we usually talk about, which is that there are no cross-linguistically watertight categories, but we want to do typology anyway, so what do we do? We can select a semantic parameter (a "comparative concept") in terms of which categories may be similar across languages, but they will differ in other respects. If we focus on those other respects, we can end up with a different typology. It may be that the real difficulty here is that our traditional category-labels, and the categories they are designed to capture, are multi-dimensional.

Genifiers may of course cumulate with other functions, e.g. referential specification (as in Mark's Yi examples), or definiteness (as in Spanish definite articles el/la), or number. These forms are thus simultaneouly articles and/or number markers, but from the perspective of genification, they are genifiers.

I also agree with Randy:

On 22.03.17 03:42, Randy LaPolla wrote:

Whenever we make a higher abstraction we are moving one more step away from the facts of the languages. The terms “gender” and “noun classifier” are already abstractions across a range of different phenomena, and so there is some loss of information about the diversity of forms when we use such terms, and if we then make a categorial merger of these two forms, as suggested, we then lose even more information.

Of course we "lose" information when we generalize across languages. But one needs to understand that typological categorization is very different from description. It may be that "there is the danger that this usage filters back into descriptions of languages", but this is so only if describers think that describing a language means putting pre-established labels on them. They should be warned against this, by emphasizing that comparative concepts are meant for comparison, and can be used for description only if there is no significant cross-linguistic variation in the relevant domain (e.g. "1st person", or "fricative").

To get back to my original question: Does anyone know a reason why one shouldn't define "gender" as a comparative concept in the following way:?

A gender system (= a system of gender markers) is a system of genifiers which includes no more than 20 genifiers and which is not restricted to numeral modifiers.

I'm not very comfortable with a definition that makes reference to an arbitrary number, but I'm even less comfortable with a situation where we have no definition for "gender" at all, because this makes much of the earlier literature unreadable. It seems to me that Corbett (1991) is about gender systems roughly in the above sense.


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

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