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Linguistic concepts and categories in language description and comparison

Authors:

Abstract

The question of whether two phenomena should be subsumed under the same concept is a frequent conceptual problem in linguistics and particularly relevant in typology. Questions such as whether a certain Turkish case can be called a dative if the Latin dative is are typical of the general methodological problem of comparative concepts. Recent approaches have tended to play down the relationship of comparative to descriptive categories, as if these belonged to unrelated fields. Quite on the contrary, a fruitful relationship between comparative and descriptive linguistics presupposes that they use the same conceptual framework. This requires that the relation between a language-specific category and a corresponding comparative category be made explicit. This task has often proved elusive. Its solution presupposes the following steps: • many linguistic concepts are prototypical rather than categorical concepts • descriptive and comparative concepts are in a hierarchy of increasing generality and abstractness • grammatical categories of individual languages are “hybrid” semiotic categories, while comparative categories may be purely formal, purely semantic or hybrid. These principles are illustrated by concepts in the vicinity of numeral classification.
CLIPP
Christiani Lehmanni inedita, publicanda, publicata
titulus
Linguistic concepts and categories
in language description and comparison
huius textus situs retis mundialis
http://www.christianlehmann.eu/publ/lehmann_
ling_concepts_categories.pdf
dies manuscripti postremum modificati
05.07.2018
occasio orationis habitae
Typology, acquisition, grammaticalization studies.
Convegno internazionale per festeggiare il trentennio di vita
del Dottorato in Linguistica di Pavia. Pavia, 14 – 15 october,
2016
volumen publicationem continens
Chini, Marina & Cuzzolin, Pierluigi (eds.), Typology,
acquisition, grammaticalization studies. Milano: Franco
Angeli (Materiali Linguistici)
annus publicationis
2018
paginae
27-50
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#!
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C&
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;*= #          )  ,
   " 
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)6!!
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!
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.!
,
!
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+3-3!
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2#!
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  , + ! ! 

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9H"
. K -     
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 
 
  
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        !! 
        
+   ! !     !
B!!":
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" 
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!""!
/!
!
#
!!
.!<5*!
          

((%;
=!&;.*1(1I'J$2K?=

(*.;*1(1IJ$2@K=%!
   & ! !    

(5 -;(@@?=!
 K
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#,
)
/!
%&;.*1(1I'J=!;
0!,S=
;ATU *11@$5@5=
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O89!897
 ! +  
!!
,!
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6;>
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 !
;=
,"!
!  "  : 5   "       
,7 #
  ;.*1(1I'J!<2= !!
"!
!,7,7!
!,7
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,"<*(!
!!(D
,7
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"*1(B!<DD
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                    .!      )  
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,
                    
3*18,!
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!     !    
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O!
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
= /0';!I/'J=
= ';!=
= /'!
;=
;?= #! ;= /0
;/0\=!
" -
" -.,
#  \ / ;/!/"=   89  !$%
89/ $89  "$ 89 4  &! 89
'89; &!'"$=

(*58Z"
\9-E E! ! 4''   
 - *  5!    !   4'' 
'!$(%
( ]"9[
8;)=9
*  ]"9[
89
 9[
89
5  ]"^"9^
89
 ^"9^
89
)898;=9!!
;/'=?D 8Z/'\9
/'!/0
O"!!
'!/'>!
2!
?  ]"_Y
89
 _9
89
 (K
D  ]"9
89
 9
89
2 ]"[
89
$\/#$(%
)8989
      

" -
#   ' ;'! ' =  *+,-./ 89  &'
89/*/-.+,89*01,894234564789
'8 89;234534,79*+,-./:9234534,7
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!(K(5O
(K(*
 (@
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#8989/89
8948989
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\9!!
'
'!
(B 
89
(@  
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 
"89!89!!!
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!*5'!/'
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 
**  "
 "
*5 
899899
(B*5;=
)
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[$
= 7!
3

= 3
'5B
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O!
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5BH!
+!!
4"!3!
"!"!
!!'
 *1
3O!
!"#!
#
!
!
# 


 !! #!
"
!
+
    !     

,
,
3!
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Thesis
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This dissertation empirically investigates the evolution of the gerund and the present participle in Late Latin, and examines on the basis of this investigation the impact of their morphological merging in Old French on their categorial distinction. The results of this thesis confirm the standard hypothesis of the evolution of the gerund and the present participle in Late Latin, but only partly: they support a specialisation of the gerund in adverbial external syntax, but not of the present participle in adjectival external syntax. Thus, the gerund shows signs of ‘converbalisation’, while the present participle does not undergo a process of ‘participialisation’. Like the gerund, the present participle in Late Latin has mostly adverbial external syntax, and is as such more converb-like than participle-like (cf. Haspelmath 1995: 4). This functional similarity between the gerund and the present participle in Late Latin makes that their morphological merging in Old French raises a major problem for their categorial distinction. A considerable proportion of all Old French -ant forms (38%) is categorially indeterminate, that is, not categorisable as either gerunds or present participles – even under the assumption that the gerund and the present participle do not encroach on each other’s distribution, neither in the transition from Late Latin to Old French, nor during the Old French period. This finding leads to the conclusion that the morphological merging of the gerund and the present participle in Old French causes these two types of non-finite verb forms to merge also on a categorial level. The label proposed for this categorial blend is the purely formal one ‘-ant form’.
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This paper argues that recent proposals to sharply distinguish between language description and comparison are ill-conceived for two reasons. First, comparison is unavoidable and hence an integral part of description. Second, the proposals for a strict separation are based on an unrealistic and anachronistic conception of descriptive categories, assuming that these can be defined in purely distributional terms. Here it is shown that description and comparison make use of, and struggle with, the same kind of empirical evidence; namely, crosslinguistically identifiable properties of grammatical formatives and constructions. If descriptive categories and crosslinguistic comparative concepts did not share such properties, language comparison would be devoid of empirical content. Hence claims that they are ontologically different do not stand up to further scrutiny. In short, said recent proposals portray language description and comparison in too-simplistic terms. They ignore, or at least downplay, most of the complexities involved in both descriptive and comparative projects, many of which in fact result from the inseparability of description and comparison.
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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 uninsightful analyses, and that language description should instead be “typologically informed”. But the Boasian imperative is not at all incompatible with an intimate connection between description and comparison: Comparative (or typological) knowledge is highly valuable both for making our descriptions transparent and comprehensible, and for helping describers to ask a wide range of questions that would not have occurred to them otherwise. Since we do not know whether any of the building blocks of languages are innate and universal for this reason, we cannot rely on general frameworks (of the generative type) for our descriptions, but we can use typological questionnaires and other kinds of comparative information as a scaffold. Such scaffolds are not theoretical components of the description, but are important methodological tools.
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