Martin Haspelmath

Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | EVA · Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution

PhD, habilitation

About

202
Publications
431,088
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11,073
Citations
Additional affiliations
November 2015 - present
University of Leipzig
Position
  • Senior Researcher
October 1998 - May 2015
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Position
  • Senior Researcher
March 1990 - March 1997
Freie Universität Berlin
Position
  • researcher, assistant professor

Publications

Publications (202)
Article
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Noam Chomsky’s Aspects inspired many scholars to think in new ways about grammatical structures of languages. But was it really a landmark achievement? Two linguists debate its contributions.
Article
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This paper highlights the importance of the distinction between general linguistics (the study of Human Language) and particular linguistics (the study of individual languages), which is often neglected. The term “theoretical linguistics” is often used as if it entailed general claims. But I note that (unless one studies non-conventional aspects of...
Article
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Argument coding splits such as differential (= split) object marking and split ergative marking have long been known to be universal tendencies, but the generalizations have not been formulated in their full generality before. In particular, ditransitive constructions have rarely been taken into account, and scenario splits have often been treated...
Article
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This paper shows why it is not a contradiction to say that each language is structurally unique and must be described with its own categories, but language description profits enormously from typological knowledge. It has sometimes been suggested that the Boasian imperative (“each language should be described in its own terms”) leads to uninsightfu...
Article
All linguists are aware that our terminology is often unclear, and sometimes downright confusing. What is wrong with linguists? If it is not a case of scientific neglect, what then is the problem?
Article
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This paper claims that a wide variety of grammatical coding asymmetries can be explained as adaptations to the language users' needs, in terms of frequency of use, predictability and coding efficiency. I claim that all grammatical oppositions involving a minimal meaning difference and a significant frequency difference are reflected in a universal...
Article
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This paper makes a terminological proposal: that the old term morph can be used for a minimal linguistic form. Many linguists (not only morphologists) need such a term, because we often refer to minimal linguistic forms, but the various terms used by linguists in roughly this meaning are either unclear or do not refer to forms. The term “morpheme”...
Preprint
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This paper highlights the importance of the distinction between general linguistics (the study of Human Language) and particular linguistics (the study of individual languages), which is often neglected. The term "theoretical linguistics" is often used as if it entailed general claims. But I note that (unless one studies nonconventional aspects of...
Article
Full-text available
This paper discusses the widely held idea that the building blocks of languages (features, categories, and architectures) are part of an innate blueprint for Human Language, and notes that if one allows for convergent cultural evolution of grammatical structures, then much of the motivation for it disappears. I start by observing that human linguis...
Article
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This paper gives an overview of differential place marking phenomena and formulates a number of universals that seem to be well supported. Differential place marking is a situation in which the coding of locative, allative or ablative roles depends on subclasses of nouns, in particular place names (toponyms), inanimate common nouns and human nouns....
Article
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In this paper, I argue that “depth of analysis” does not deserve the prestige that it is sometimes given in general linguistics. While language description should certainly be as detailed as possible, general linguistics must rely on worldwide comparison of languages, and this cannot be based on language-particular analyses. Rigorous quantitative c...
Chapter
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Grammaticalization is nowadays often seen primarily as a kind of semantic-pragmatic change, but in the 19th century it was more typically seen in a holistic typological perspective: the idea was that synthetic languages develop from analytic languages, and that they may become analytic again. This kind of development is indeed occasionally observed...
Article
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The amount of available digital data for the languages of the world is constantly increasing. Unfortunately, most of the digital data are provided in a large variety of formats and therefore not amenable for comparison and re-use. The Cross-Linguistic Data Formats initiative proposes new standards for two basic types of data in historical and typol...
Chapter
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This paper reasserts the fundamental conceptual distinction between language-particular categories of individual languages, defined within particular systems, and comparative concepts at the cross-linguistic level, defined in substantive terms. The paper argues that comparative concepts are also widely used in other sciences and that they are alway...
Article
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In this paper, I formulate and explain a number of universal generalizations about the formation of causative verbs (overtly marked verbs with causal meaning) and anticausative verbs (overtly marked verbs with noncausal meaning). Given the “spontaneity scale” of basic verb meanings (transitive > unergative > automatic unaccusative > costly unaccusa...
Article
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This paper argues that alienability contrasts in adnominal possessive constructions should not be explained by iconicity of distance, but by predictability due to the higher relative frequency of possessed occurrences of inalienable nouns. While it is true that when there is an alienability split, the alienable construction typically has an addi...
Article
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This paper claims that crosslinguistic tendencies of number marking asymmetries can be explained with reference to usage frequency: The kinds of nouns which, across languages, tend to show singulative coding (with special marking of the uniplex member of a pair), rather than the more usual plurative coding (with special marking of the multiplex mem...
Article
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Most languages of the world are taken to result from a combination of a vertical transmission process from older to younger generations of speakers or signers and (mostly) gradual changes that accumulate over time. In contrast, creole languages emerge within a few generations out of highly multilingual societies in situations where no common first...
Article
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The general distinction between morphology and syntax is widely taken for granted, but it crucially depends on a cross-linguistically valid concept of ‘(morphosyntactic) word’. I show that there are no good criteria for defining such a concept. I examine ten criteria in some detail (potential pauses, free occurrence, mobility, uninterruptibility, n...
Chapter
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It has long been observed that the modern European languages use more function words compared to earlier inflectional patterns, and this trend seems to have increased even further in creoles and other non-standard varieties. Here we make two arguments: First, we note that the terms synthetic and analytic are based on the “word” concept, which is no...
Article
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Linguists are sometimes confronted with choices concerning language names. For example, one and the same language may be referred to as Persian or Farsi. This short paper discusses some principles that one might use for making decisions when there are variant forms in use, or when one feels that none of the existing names is appropriate. The princi...
Article
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Since the 1970s, serial verb constructions (SVCs) have been discussed widely in African, Oceanic and many other languages throughout the world. This article gives an overview of the most important generalizations about SVCs that have been proposed and that do seem to hold if a sufficiently restrictive definition of the concept is adopted. The main...
Article
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I argue that the distinction between comparative concepts and descriptive categories helps language describers and typologists to benefit from each other because describers are free to set up their own categories, typologists are free to define their own concepts, comparison need not involve complete systems, and interlinear translation can be eith...
Article
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1. Ditransitive alignment types: a functional explanation 2. Some philosophical foundations 3. Terminology and definitions 4. Ditransitive flagging and indexing (Haspelmath 2005b) 5. Ditransitive alignment splits: Differential Recipient Marking 6. Ditransitive inverse patterns (Haspelmath 2006+a) 7. More on the Ditransitive Person-Role Constraint (...
Article
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I fully agree with Davis, Gillon, and Matthewson’s target article (DG&M; 2014) on some of their key points: (i) that sophisticated first-hand work on small languages should be a priority for contemporary linguistics, (ii) that hypothesis-driven elicitation is a very important technique of descriptive (= language-specific) linguistics, (iii) that ma...
Article
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We propose, and provide corpus-based support for, a usage-based explanation for cross-linguistic trends in the coding of causal–noncausal verb pairs, such as raise/rise, break (tr.)/break (intr.). While English mostly uses the same verb form both for the causal and the noncausal sense (labile coding), most languages have extra coding for the causal...
Article
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In this paper, we illustrate a method for identifying clusters of semantic roles by cross-linguistic comparison. On the basis of data from 25 languages drawn from the ValPaL (Valency Patterns Leipzig) database, we show how one can visualize coexpression tendencies using quantitative methods (in particular, multidimensional scaling). Traditionally,...
Article
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In this short paper, I point out that there is a discrepancy between the widespread assumption that "argument" and "adjunct" should be seen as cross-linguistic categories and the practice of providing language-particular tests for the distinction. Language-particular criteria yield language-particular categories, which cannot be readily compared ac...
Book
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This book is dedicated to Anna Siewierska, who died, far too young, in 2011. It contains 15 contributions by 20 linguists who may be counted among the foremost scholars in the field of linguistic typology. All of these articles discuss a topic that is prominent in Anna's work, whose journal articles and monographs on the passive, on word order, and...
Article
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This paper presents the results of a world-wide typological study of same-subject and different-subject complements of the verb 'want' (sample size: 80 languages). I am interested in whether the subject is overtly expressed only in different-subject complements (e.g. English, Mandarin Chinese, Coptic) or whether it is expressed also in same-subject...
Article
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In this paper, I propose a frequency-based explanation of the Ditransitive Person-Role Constraint, a cross-linguistic generalization that can be formulated as follows: "Combinations of bound pronouns with the roles Recipient and Theme are disfavored if the Theme pronoun is first or second person and the Recipient pronoun is third person." This cons...
Chapter
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This chapter argues that framework-free grammatical description/analysis and explanation is superior to framework-bound analysis because all languages have different categories, and languages should be described in their own terms. Frameworks represent aprioristic assumptions that are likely to lead to a distorted description of language. The chapt...
Article
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The terms S (intransitive), A, P (transitive), as well as T and R (ditransitive) have been used since the 1970s to allow linguists to characterize the differences between major alignment patterns such as accusative vs. ergative. They are often taken for granted, but a closer examination of the literature reveals that they can have three rather diff...
Book
Lezgian is spoken by about 400,000 people in southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan in the eastern Caucasus. (See 2.1. for details on Lezgian speakers.) Lezgian has been written since 1928, first in the Latin alphabet, from 1938 onward in the Cyrillic alphabet. This grammar describes the standard language, which is based on the lowland Güne dia...
Article
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The general distinction between morphology and syntax is widely taken for granted, but it crucially depends on the notion of a cross-linguistically valid concept of "(morphosyntactic) word". I show that there are no good criteria for defining such a concept. I examine ten criteria in some detail (potential pauses, free occurrence, mobility, uninter...
Article
Full-text available
This paper reports on a collaborative quantitative study of loanwords in 41 languages, aimed at identifying meanings and groups of meanings that are borrowing-resistant. We find that nouns are more borrowable than adjectives or verbs, that content words are more borrowable than function words, and that different semantic fields also show different...
Article
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In his reply to my discussion note ‘Comparative concepts and descriptive categories in crosslinguistic studies’(Haspelmath 2010, henceforth H10), Newmeyer (2010, henceforth N) defends the widespread old idea that there are crosslinguistic categories and that the same kinds of concepts are and should be used both in crosslinguistic studies and in la...
Article
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In this discussion note, I argue that we need to distinguish carefully between descriptive categories, that is, categories of particular languages, and comparative concepts, which are used for crosslinguistic comparison and are specifically created by typologists for the purposes of comparison. Descriptive formal categories cannot be equated across...
Book
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Understanding Morphology offers students an introduction to the study of word structure that starts at the very beginning. Assuming no knowledge of the field of morphology, the book present a broad range of morphological phenomena from a variety of languages. The goal is to shed light on major issues of analysis, so chapters are structured around e...
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Que la typologie des langues soit possible n'est pas une evidence compte tenu de la diversite des structures grammaticales. Certes les langues peuvent exprimer approximativement les memes choses, mais elles ont des categories grammaticales completement differentes qui ne sont pas assimilables aux categories d'autres langues. Dans l'ancienne traditi...
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Conditional universals have always interested linguists more than unrestricted universals, which are often impossible to demonstrate empirically because categories cannot be defined in a cross-linguistically meaningful way. But deep dependencies have not been confirmed by more recent empirical research, and those universals with solid empirical sup...
Article
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As in all areas of grammar, the terminology surrounding case phenomena is often not straightforward: Linguists with different backgrounds use the same terms for somewhat or radically different concepts, or they use different terms for very similar or identical concepts. It is unlikely that terminological consensus will emerge soon, primarily becaus...
Article
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In view of the diversity of grammatical structures, it is not evident that language typology is possible. Languages may express roughly the same things, but they have quite different grammatical categories, which cannot be equated with the categories of other languages. In the older structuralist tradition, the conclusion from this was that languag...
Chapter
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In this paper, I approach the agglutination-fusion distinction from an empirical point of view. Although the well-known morphological typology of languages (isolating, agglutinating, flexive/fusional, incorporating) has often been criticized as empty, the old idea that there are (predominantly) agglutinating and (predominantly) fusional languages i...
Article
CorbettGreville G., FraserNorman M. & McGlashanScott (eds.) Heads in Grammatical Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 340 pp. £37.50/US$59.95. ISBN 0-521-42070-9. - Volume 18 Issue 1 - Martin Haspelmath
Article
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This paper argues that three widely accepted motivating factors subsumed under the broad heading of iconicity, namely iconicity of quantity, iconicity of complexity and iconicity of cohesion in fact have no role in explaining grammatical asymmetries and should be discarded. The iconicity accounts of the relevant phenomena have been proposed by auth...
Article
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I am grateful to John Haiman and William Croft for their penetrating critiques of my claims and for the interesting challenges that they provide for them. This offers me a chance to clarify and elaborate on some of the central points of my article. This is an important debate, because iconicity and frequency are central explanatoty concepts in func...
Article
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In a second step, I want to examine the ways in which the economic motivation is implemented in languages through diachronic change. Economic motivation, like other types of functional motivation, needs to be interpreted in diachronic terms: From the point of view of the speakers'grammars, economical patterns are arbitrary (because speakers would b...
Article
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Do-support is a unique characteristic of English. Many languages other than English have do-periphrasis but not English-type do-support. This raises the obvious question: What is special about English? The goal of this paper is to provide an account of English do-support that explains why do-support, with its attendant properties, is found uniquely...
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This paper compares the generative principles-and-parameters approach to explaining syntactic universals to the functional-typological approach and also discusses the intermediate approach of Optimality Theory. It identifies some fundamental differences between generative parametric explanations and functional explanations. Most importantly, genera...
Article
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This paper identifies a number of empirically observable universals of reflexive marking that concern the existence of a special reflexive pronoun and the length of the marker that is used in reflexive constructions, in various different positions of the nonreflexive or reflexive pronoun. Most of the proposed universals have been mentioned earlier...
Article
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In this paper, I show that scales (or hierarchies) have been appealed to in various functions: They have been used to formulate descriptive generalizations (on a single language), and to formulate cross-linguistic generalizations. They have also been used for binary relations, and for implicational relations among more than two items on the scale....
Article
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This paper argues that language-particular restrictions on ditransitive constructions are best understood as instantiations of easily falsifiable implicational universals that can be explained functionally, rather than as falling out from a restrictive formal metalanguage. Well-known restrictions on ditransitives in English (* She gave Kim it ) and...
Article
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Structural categories of grammar (such as clitic, affix, compound, adjective, pronoun, dative, subject, passive, diphthong, coronal) have to be posited by linguists and by children during acquisition. This would be easier if they simply had to choose from a list of pre-established categories. However, existing proposals for what such a list might b...
Chapter
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Introduction The term coordination refers to syntactic constructions in which two or more units of the same type are combined into a larger unit and still have the same semantic relations with other surrounding elements. The units may be words (e.g. verbs (1a)), phrases (e.g. noun phrases (1b)), subordinate clauses (e.g. (1c)) or full sentences (e....
Article
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This paper first provides an overview of the various senses in which the terms and have been used in 20th-century linguistics. Twelve different senses, related only by family resemblances, are distinguished, grouped into four larger classes: markedness as complexity, as difficulty, as abnormality, and as a multidimensional correlation. In the secon...
Article
LANGUAGE, VOLUME 83, NUMBER 4 (2006)908 uniformity effects, since the uniformity pressure is not on the entire word—there can be no penalty for members of a paradigm being distinct from one another as the result of having different affixes. But paradigm contrast takes the entire inflected form, not just the stem, as its domain. Because their domain...
Article
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Ditransitive constructions are defined here as constructions with an actor, a theme, plus a "proto-recipient" (Primus 1999) argument, i. e.-recipient-possessor (give, hand, donate),-goal-possessor (bring, send),-addressee-listener (tell, explain),-addressee-viewer (show), and closely related roles. (Not included: actor-theme-location constructions...
Article
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Scientific generalizations must be reproducible (or replicable) to be accepted as valid, whether they are based on simple observations or controlled observations, i.e. experiments. In linguistics, issues of replicability arise at various levels: (i) replicability of speaker behavior under identical experimental conditions (acceptability judgments,...
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LETTERS TO LANGUAGE Language accepts letters from readers that briefly and succinctly respond to or comment upon either material published previously in the journal or issues deemed of importance to the field. The editor reserves the right to edit letters as needed. Brief replies from relevant parties are included as warranted. M. B. Emeneau?s impa...
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This paper discusses the patterns of case-marking/adpositional marking and indexing of ditransitive clauses in the world's languages, i.e. clauses with an Agent, a Recipient and a Theme argument. It distinguishes three major alignment types, indirective, secundative, and neutral, corresponding to accusative, ergative and neutral in monotransitive c...
Article
Full-text available
In this paper, I propose a frequency-based explanation of the Ditransitive Person-Role Constraint, a cross-linguistic generalization that can be formulated as follows: “Combinations of bound pronouns with the roles Recipient and Theme are disfavored if the Theme pronoun is first or second person and the Recipient pronoun is third person.” This cons...

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