Author: Martin Haspelmath

The “typology vs. theory“ mistake: Why “comparative linguistics“ is the best label

There is a misleading but widespread stereotype in linguistics: that “language typology” is somehow opposed to “linguistic theory”. Dryer (2006) has explained why this is wrong, but the stereotype keeps being repeated, so I feel that I need to write again about it. And in the end, I think that…

Why there are no zero markers in grammar

Many grammatical constructions in the world’s languages contain (grammatical) markers, i.e. (generally quite short) forms that cannot stand on their own (i.e. they are bound forms), that cannot be focused (i.e. that cannot be the crucial aspect of an answer to a content question), and that are generally said to…

How can we understand Human Language if we don’t know all languages?

Linguists almost never worry about this question – apparently they often assume that languages are similar enough to allow them to make claims about Human Language (g(eneral)-linguistic claims) even if they study only a few languages, or sometimes only a single language. But isn’t this a bit like making general…

Maddieson (2018), Kiparsky (2018), and the nature of phonological comparison

In the recent volume on Phonological typology (Hyman & Plank (eds.) 2018), the editors complain that phonology is not given sufficient attention by morphosyntax-heavy mainstream typology, so it may perhaps be reassuring to note that “phonology is not different” in one respect: The nature of the things to be compared…

A conversation between Gillian Ramchand and Martin Haspelmath, on different perspectives in linguistics

Martin: Many thanks, Gillian, for contributing a substantive comment on a recent blogpost about describing and comparing languages and framework-free theory. Instead of leaving your comment simply as it, here are some reactions of mine in a dialogue form (and thanks for adding a few more points, marked in italics…

A discussion with Edith Moravcsik about singulative markers and individualizers

Martin Haspelmath: Edith, we have a long history of interacting, starting with the first course on universals that I attended at the University of Vienna (back in 1982, as I noted here). So I’m really glad that you took an interest in some of my recent work on singulative marking…

Confusing p-linguistics and g-linguistics: Philosopher Ludlow on “framework-free theorizing”

This post was prompted by a recent paper by Peter Ludlow (a Michigan/Illinois-based philosopher) on “the philosophy of generative linguistics” (2019), where he targets a 2010 paper of mine for criticism, and (quite flatteringly) pits me against Darwin. But he confuses general linguistic theory with language-particular theory, and as this…

Bound forms and welded forms: Two basic concepts of general grammar

Linguists often try to characterize affixes in terms of a notion of “boundness“, as in this passage of the Wikipedia article “affix“: “Lexical affixes are bound elements that appear as affixes, but function as incorporated nouns within verbs” But what exactly is meant by “bound”? Is it just a synonym…

DeGraff on equality, universal grammar, and creolization

Michel DeGraff is a prominent creolist and advocate of Haitian Creole, who works as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has a recent short piece on human equality and UG (universal grammar), published on the occasion of Noam A. Chomsky’s 90th birthday. DeGraff’s central point is that…

Explaining special patient and agent marking: Is there a serious challenge to the theory of efficient coding? (A discussion of Chappell & Verstraete 2019)

Many languages have special patient marking when the patient is referentially prominent (definite, animate, or a personal pronoun), and special agent marking when the agent is non-prominent. Typologists have been aware of this since the 1970s (e.g. Silverstein 1976; Moravcsik 1978), and the first type of phenomenon (typically called differential…

Against traditional grammar – and for normal science in linguistics

I was recently invited to give a talk for the IGRA doctoral programme during a retreat workshop in beautiful Hohenstein-Ernstthal. I am grateful to the organizers (Gereon Müller and Jochen Trommer) for the talk invitation, and to the participants for a very good discussion after the talk. Here is the…

What is the difference between a clause and a sentence?

“Clause” and “sentence” are two terms that linguists use all the time, but they have a hard time explaining what they mean. I recently posted a question about this on Facebook, and my feeling was confirmed that there is a lot of uncertainty about these two terms. They are almost…

An interview with Yakov Testelets (Moscow)

Martin Haspelmath: Yakov, you have been following theoretical and comparative research in morphosyntax over more than four decades (we first met in Moscow in 1986), and you have been discussing these things with me on and off. Most recently, you gave an initial opinion on my question of what “formal…

The innovative contributions of generative grammar

A while ago, Roberta D’Alessandro proposed to her Facebook friends to say something positive about an approach that they otherwise criticize or reject, with the goal of making the interaction among linguists more positive. Since I often criticize generative approaches, I felt invited to say something positive about generative syntax,…

Is “markedness” still alive? On Kiparsky, Dixon and some others

The idea that inflectional features like tense and number often have two contrasting values which are somehow systematically asymmetric goes back to Jakobson (1932; 1957), and his idea that often one value is marked and the other unmarked has been very influential, especially in structural/generative linguistics. The term “markedness” has…

Aikhenvald & Dixon on Haspelmath (2016) on serial verb constructions

Serial verb constructions: A critical assessment of Haspelmath’s interpretation by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon (The following was originally written as a letter to the editor of the journal Language and Linguistics, where Haspelmath (2016) was published; L&L declined to publish it, so it is published here.)…