[Lingtyp] spectrograms in linguistic description and for language comparison

Juergen Bohnemeyer jb77 at buffalo.edu
Sun Dec 4 04:26:48 UTC 2022

Dear Christian – I stand corrected! Thanks for the link, I think it’s great that you’ve looked into this issue. I sincerely wish more people had.

And I think I agree with the policy you propose. But allow me to elaborate just a little.

Now, at the risk of splitting hairs, I’m afraid from where I look at things, ‘probatory example’ is an oxymoron.

There’s nothing an example could prove. In fact, there’s no such thing as proof in science. Proof only exists in math, including in logic.

The closest equivalent to proof in science is hypothesis testing.

Can an example ever be said to serve as a test of a hypothesis?

Let’s say the author is aiming to adjudicate between two competing analyses. One predicts that a certain affix will appear in a certain environment, while the competing analysis predicts that it won’t. Then the author produces an example that instantiates the relevant context, and features or doesn’t feature the affix, thereby confirming one prediction or the other.

Under such conditions, the example in question can assume a role similar to that of hypothesis testing in experimental science.

But then immediately validity concerns analogous to those in experimentation will present themselves. Such as:

  *   Internal validity: Was the example correctly analyzed and coded? Is the occurrence of the affix in question actually conditioned solely by the factors the competing hypotheses assume, or could it also be conditioned by other factors?
  *   External validity: Is the example reproducible with other members of the speech community? Assuming there are any left!
  *   Ecological validity: Does the example actually reflect the everyday linguistic behavior of speakers of the language (/doculect)? Assuming there still is everyday use by the members of the community!

As I see it, the recommendations your webpage makes for documenting the conditions under which a ‘probatory’ example was recorded go some way toward addressing concerns with external and ecological validity.

But the biggest challenge for addressing such concerns is in my view that we haven’t developed standards for assessing and reporting the empirical basis for our descriptions – the speakers we collect the data from, and how well they/it represent(s) the speech community, or which speech community it represents.

Best -- Juergen

Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
Professor, Department of Linguistics
University at Buffalo

Office: 642 Baldy Hall, UB North Campus
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From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Christian Lehmann <christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de>
Date: Friday, December 2, 2022 at 10:18 AM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] spectrograms in linguistic description and for language comparison
Dear Jürgen,

to mitigate a bit your pessimist opinion of the methodological situation of our discipline, let me mention, as a contribution to the discussion you are requiring, my web page
which advocates a distinction between

  1.  a probatory example (which is data used as scientific evidence)
  2.  and an illustrative example (or pedagogical example, which is only meant to render a descriptive statement more concrete and, thus, to help understanding).
Methodological standards for these two kinds of examples are completely different. On #1, I may recommend:

Lehmann, Christian 2004, “Data in linguistics.” The Linguistic Review 21(3/4):275-310.<https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.researchgate.net%2Fpublication%2F249931781_Data_in_linguistics&data=05%7C01%7Cjb77%40buffalo.edu%7C7fe4ba1414394757470008dad4783cd7%7C96464a8af8ed40b199e25f6b50a20250%7C0%7C0%7C638055911006309971%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=UI%2BLyj4NP2pzzyidgM3Z5nh72VJP%2FHCQl1UjmMWsRRI%3D&reserved=0>


Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt
christianw_lehmann at arcor.de<mailto:christianw_lehmann at arcor.de>

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