Author: Martin Haspelmath

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.)…

What is an affix? A fresh attempt

In my (2011) paper on the indeterminacy of word segmentation, I despaired of the task of distinguishing between “words” and “affixes”, but in the meantime, I have become more optimistic. I am now ready to answer the above question (“What is an affix?”) by a proposal for a definition. It…

What is the role of biology and culture in understanding language(s)? A discussion with José-Luis Mendívil-Giró

Martin Haspelmath: José-Luis, I’d like to thank you for writing a detailed comment on one of my recent posts (on differential object marking) on your own blog (Philosophy of Linguistics). I’d like to discuss some of the general issues in more detail. José-Luis Mendívil-Giró: Thank you very much, Martin, for…

Unity of science: Why linguistics faces bigger challenges than the replication crisis

Over the last few years, psychologists and scientists in some other field have been talking (and worrying) a lot about problems of replicability and reproducibility. In psychology, people even talk about a “replication crisis”, and linguists have been thinking about replicability (e.g. of cross-linguistic generalizations, Plank (ed.) 2006) and reproducibility…

How the individuation scale helps explain universals of coding in countability classes

It sometimes happens that different scholars arrive at similar conclusions more or less independently, and such cases are probably particularly good indications that they are on the right track. It seems that Scott Grimm’s recent study of count-mass, singular-plural and singulative-collective noun pairs (published in 2018) is a good example…

What is the role of innate universal categories in grammatical theorizing? A conversation between David Adger and Martin Haspelmath

Martin Haspelmath: David, you criticized a blogpost that I wrote a while ago, where I said that Chomsky apparently changed his mind and no longer assumes a rich universal grammar (UG). I didn’t quite understand what you meant in your brief Twitter comments. I have been under the impression that…

No progress on differential object marking: Comments and reflections on Kalin (2018)

From my perspective, differential object marking (DOM) – the universal tendency for prominent objects to get special marking – has been well-understood since the 1980s, but even though the explanation was clearly stated in Comrie (1989) (and also formulated clearly in Croft (1988) and Bossong (1991)), many linguists seems to…

How coding efficiency explains cross-linguistic asymmetries: A reply to Song (2018: Ch. 7)

Jae Jung Song (1958-2017) published two typology textbooks, one in (2001) and another one earlier this year (which must have been finished just before his death), containing mostly new material. In particular, Chapter 7 of the new book deals with grammatical coding asymmetries and other “typological asymmetries”, as well as…