[Lingtyp] spectrograms in linguistic description and for language comparison

Randy J. LaPolla randy.lapolla at gmail.com
Sun Dec 11 04:57:27 UTC 2022

Thanks Ilana,
Your analogy is spot on. I wrote a paper last year arguing that seeing linguistics as the scientific study of language has really limited what has been done in linguistics, as it leads to the kind of butterfly collecting you talk about, thinking of language as a thing that can be removed from its context and looked at from the point of view of syntax or semantics or phonetics, without taking the entire utterance into account (Halliday was an important exception) and of course ignoring the setting and non-linguistic aspects of communication. I argue for seeing linguistics as one form of human behaviour like all the others (the cognitive abilities used and principles involved are the same) and also languaging is just one type of behaviour involved in communication (this is obvious when we feel the need to use emoji to represent gestures and facial expressions). Important also is the cognition and the inferential mechanisms that allow us to communicate with or without language, seeing abductive inference of the speaker’s intention in performing a communicative act as the key to communication (not coding and decoding). I don’t think there should be a separate “cognitive linguistics”, as all linguistics is ultimately cognitive. Going back to Humboldt and the rest of the Romanticists (Boas, Sapir, Whorf, etc.), we should also be looking at the diversity of ways of thinking and understanding the world manifested in the different languages. Essentially this means putting humans and their activities at the center of our research. And so linguistics is a behavioural science, and basically includes all the other behaviour sciences.

Yes, “take” is ubiquitous (George Lakoff had a BLS paper on the many uses of “take” back in the 1980’s). Particularly in New York we used “take” even for things other areas of the US didn’t, like “take a haircut”, “take a meeting” and of course “take a dump”. Another good example of regional differences is “couple”. I was talking to someone from the mid-West who only used “couple” to mean ’two’, but I told him in New York it can be more than two. He didn’t believe me, so I took him to a Dunkin Donuts in New York and asked the woman there to give me “a couple of donut holes”. She gave me six. As we infer the meaning of the words we learn, our understanding can be somewhat different. For example, I have noticed some people see “window of opportunity” as like a camera shutter that opens and closes quickly, but for me it is the size of the window. E.g. one time Chuck Fillmore and I were trying to arrange a get-together, and I said because of certain events, my window of opportunity was just a porthole. That seemed to be a novel view of it to him.

Hi Juergen,
This may be a case example of us having different understandings of what “usage-based” means. For me it implies a definition of language similar to Bill Croft’s definition: not as the language forms that can be produced, but the language forms that have actually been produced already. In other words, the object of inquiry is the actual language that has been spoken. So the work is solidly empirical and inductive, extracting the patterns from natural texts. (By the way, in terms of grammaticality judgements, many of us who have done fieldwork and then extracted some pattern from the natural text to discuss in the grammar, but then show the example to the person who spoke it, sometimes get a response from the person that the sentence can’t be said, but when we put it back in its original context, the person says it is fine. So one suggestion that has been catching on a bit in writing grammars, is to include as much of the original context in the example or at least discuss what the context was. I have a paper where I took a particular pattern and show that in half a dozen different contexts the same pattern meant very different things.)

We can of course take some common expressions for granted, and these would be the illustrative examples rather than the probative examples Christian talked about.

All the best,

Professor Randy J. LaPolla(罗仁地), PhD FAHA 
Center for Language Sciences
Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences
Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai
A302, Muduo Building, #18 Jinfeng Road, Zhuhai City, Guangdong, China

https://randylapolla.info <https://randylapolla.info/>
ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6100-6196 <https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6100-6196>    


> On 11 Dec 2022, at 8:43 AM, Ilana Mushin <i.mushin at uq.edu.au> wrote:
> Eloquently put Randy! I love your noodle analogy. As an Australian in the US I found the use of ‘take’ very difficult to feel right (‘take a shower’ vs AusE ‘have a shower’) I still find it confusing when someone talks of ‘taking a class’ in something - are they a student or a teacher?
> I’ve come late to this thread so I haven’t read the whole history. One of the methodological challenges we face as descriptive and typological linguists is how to factor in the living environment in which language is produced. We often end up with what I think of as dead butterflies pinned on a board, which tell us a lot about the morphology of butterflies, with theories of how they work in flight, socialise to reproduce, engage with their food sources. But one can’t easily see what happens in actual flight, reproduction, eating and how butterflies deal with the contingencies of their environment in ‘real time’.  
> Ilana
> Ilana Mushin
> Professor of Linguistics
> Deputy Head of School
> President, Australian Linguistic Society
> Co-Editor, Interactional Linguistics (https://benjamins.com/catalog/il <https://benjamins.com/catalog/il>) 
> School of Languages and Cultures
> University of Queensland
> St Lucia, QLD 4072.
> Ph: (07) 3365 6810 <tel:(07)%203365%206810>
> CRICOS Provider No: 00025B
> I acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal peoples on whose land I live and work. Their sovereignty was never ceded.

> From: Juergen Bohnemeyer <jb77 at buffalo.edu>
> Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] spectrograms in linguistic description and for language comparison
> Date: 11 December 2022 at 8:21:40 AM GMT+8
> To: Marianne Mithun <mithun at linguistics.ucsb.edu>, "Randy J. LaPolla" <randy.lapolla at gmail.com>
> Cc: "list, typology" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
> Dear all – I’m really puzzled by the turn this thread has taken. Do people really believe that usage-based grammars don’t support wellformedness judgments? Why would that be?
> I maintain that my concepts of cats and dogs are usage-based. That doesn’t prevent me from distinguishing cats from dogs from other critters and things with great confidence.
> Why wouldn’t the same kind of usage-based conceptual knowledge allow me to assess whether a given sentence is composed exhaustively of constructions I recognize as familiar?
> What am I missing here?
> Of course, familiarity is a matter of degree, and so are grammaticality judgments. We know that (it seems).
> (I do agree with Randy’s rejection of decontextualized elicitation, though.)
> Best -- Juergen
> Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
> Professor, Department of Linguistics
> University at Buffalo 
> Office: 642 Baldy Hall, UB North Campus
> Mailing address: 609 Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260 
> Phone: (716) 645 0127 
> Fax: (716) 645 3825
> Email: jb77 at buffalo.edu <mailto:jb77 at buffalo.edu>
> Web: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/ <http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/> 
> Office hours Tu/Th 3:30-4:30pm in 642 Baldy or via Zoom (Meeting ID 585 520 2411; Passcode Hoorheh) 
> There’s A Crack In Everything - That’s How The Light Gets In 
> (Leonard Cohen)  
> -- 
>> On 11 Dec 2022, at 10:27 am, Randy J. LaPolla <randy.lapolla at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  Hi Christian,
>> Thanks for your response! As Marianne said, we will have some things, particularly common constructions, that we have strong sensibilities about. But I don’t see language as a fixed thing, but as emergent human behaviour, and as Paul Hopper and others have pointed out, many constructions are co-constructed in the interaction of conversation. So language is changing all the time, and what can be acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to someone else speaking the the same language. As you talked about in your 1985 paper, people have a desire to be expressive and creative, and so we are always using language in new ways that were not acceptable until we started using them. For example, when I left Berkeley I had to sell my car, and to emphasise to the person I was trying to sell it to how well I took care of it, I said “I babied the hell out of it”. This was of course an extension of the construction “beat the hell out of”, which had already been extended to things like “polish the hell out of it”, but possibly my use of baby as a verb in the construction was the first time anyone had done that, but the buyer knew what I meant, and bought the car. In Chinese the so-called passive marker bèi has recently been used with verbs that it never would have been used with before, such as bèi zìshā ‘be committed suicide (declare a death that isn’t a suicide a suicide)’, bèi zìyuàn ‘be volunteered’, bèi héxié ‘be harmonised’ (usually refers to having your website shut down because you said something the government didn’t like). Not everyone accepts this usage.
>> Language doesn’t exist anywhere except as bits of memory we have. Our learning of language is subjective, as it is based on our experiences, and so each person’s sense of what is “right” will be based on their own sensibilities, which derive from their experiences and habits. Knowledge of language is like any other kind of knowledge. It is the same with other aspects of human behaviour:  I have a strong sensibility that one should cook noodles in a large pot of water with some salt in it and only cook it until it is al dente. I acquired this sensibility because of growing up in an Italian household. My wife grew up in a Chinese household and had very different experiences with the cooking of noodles (little water, no salt, cook them until they are very soft) and so her sensibilities about the right way to make noodles is quite different. There are certainly things that seem like rules, like men should wear trousers and not skirts, but that is also just a cultural convention, and doesn’t hold in Burma and many other countries.What we call grammaticalization and lexicalization is simply conventionalisation at the societal level and habitualisation at the individual level, and can change all the time (they are the same process but differ in generality). Most of us catch ourselves criticising new uses that do not fit out sensibilities, but over time we can come to accept them. Back in the early days of generative grammar, a lone voice pointing out the folly of the methodology used (determining grammaticalization values) was Dwight Bolinger. He showed that many of the examples of ungrammatical expressions used in early generative papers would become perfectly acceptable with a simple change of context. Y. R. Chao even showed how Colorless green ideas sleep furiously could be made to make sense in the right context. There was also psycholinguistic work showing that repeating an “ungrammatical” form enough times makes it acceptable (I experienced this myself when I lived in Australia: when I first got there I felt “How are you going” as a greeting was really aberrant—in the US we either say How are you doing or How is it going, but not How are you going, unless the answer is “By bus”, but I later got used to it and began using it myself all the time, so it became a habit, and I had a problem not saying it when I went back to the States!).
>> Sorry this is so long!
>> All the best,
>> Randy
>> ——
>> Professor Randy J. LaPolla(罗仁地), PhD FAHA 
>> Center for Language Sciences
>> Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences
>> Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai
>> A302, Muduo Building, #18 Jinfeng Road, Zhuhai City, Guangdong, China
>> https://randylapolla.info <https://randylapolla.info/>
>> ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6100-6196 <https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6100-6196>    
>> 邮编:519000
>> 广东省珠海市唐家湾镇金凤路18号木铎楼A302
>> 北京师范大学珠海校区
>> 人文和社会科学高等研究院
>> 语言科学研究中心 
>>> On 11 Dec 2022, at 3:11 AM, Christian Lehmann <christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de <mailto:christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de>> wrote:
>>> Randy, I certainly agree with the thrust of your argument. However, here as elsewhere, there are degrees. Grammaticalization is 'formalization', subjection to rules of grammar. The lower the grammatical level (the level of complexity), the more rigid the rules. It seems to me that there are straightforward grammaticality judgements at the lowest level, viz. the level of inflectional morphology. If an informant tells me that one does not say goed, but instead went, this is not a question of being able to think up a situation of use, but just a report on the linguistic experience of one's lifetime.
>>> But again, I fully agree as far as judgements at higher levels of complexity are concerned.
>>> -- 
>>> Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
>>> Rudolfstr. 4
>>> 99092 Erfurt
>>> Deutschland
>>> Tel.:	+49/361/2113417
>>> E-Post:	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de <mailto:christianw_lehmann at arcor.de>
>>> Web:	https://www.christianlehmann.eu <https://www.christianlehmann.eu/>_______________________________________________
>>> Lingtyp mailing list
>>> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org <mailto:Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
>>> https://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
>> _______________________________________________
>> Lingtyp mailing list
>> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
>> https://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lingtyp/attachments/20221211/2faaf968/attachment.htm>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list