The challenge of making language description and comparison mutually beneficial

Martin Haspelmath 1
  • 1 Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte, Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
Martin Haspelmath


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 either based on comparative concepts or descriptive categories. A similar distinction also exists in other disciplines that deal with cultural concepts.

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Linguistic Typology publishes research on linguistic diversity and unity. It welcomes articles that report empirical findings about crosslinguistic variation, advance our understanding of the patterns of diversity, or refine typological methodology.