Comparative concepts and language-specific categories: Theory and practice

William Croft 1
  • 1 Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, MSC03 2130, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, United States of America.
William Croft

Abstract

What are comparative concepts and how are they related to language-specific categories used in language description? Three general categories of comparative concepts are defined here: purely functional comparative concepts and two types of hybrid formal-functional concepts, constructions and strategies. The two hybrid types provide more explicit and precise definitions of common typological practice. However a terminological issue is that Western grammatical terms are frequently used to describe strategies which are not universal rather than constructions which are. Language-specific categories appear to be radically different from comparative concepts because the former are defined distributionally whereas the latter are defined in universal functional and formal terms. But language-specific constructions have functions, that is, they are instances of constructions in the comparative sense and their form is an instantiation of a strategy. Typology forms generalizations across language-specific constructions in both their form and their function. Finally, a major issue is the confusion of terminological choices for language-specific categories. Four rules of thumb for useful labeling of language-specific categories, largely following best descriptive practice, are offered.

  • Amha, Azeb. 2001. The Maale language. Leiden: CNWS Publications.

  • Bybee, Joan L. 1985. Morphology: A study into the relation between meaning and form. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

  • Carnie, Andrew. 2013. Syntax: A generative introduction. 3rd edn. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Chafe, Wallace. 1976. Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics and points of view. In Charles Li (ed.), Subject and topic, 25–56. New York: Academic Press.

  • Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Comrie, Bernard. 2003. On explaining language universals. In Michael Tomasello (ed.), The new psychology of language: Cognitive and functional approaches to language structure, Vol. 2, 195–209. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  • Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Croft, William. 2003. Typology and universals. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Croft, William. 2009. Methods for finding language universals in syntax. In Sergio Scalise, Elisabetta Magni & Antonietta Bisetto (eds.), Universals of language today, 145–164. Berlin: Springer.

  • Croft, William. 2010. Relativity, linguistic variation and language universals. CogniTextes 4.303 http://cognitextes.revues.org/303/

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Croft, William. 2014. Comparing categories and constructions crosslinguistically (again): The diversity of ditransitives (review article on Malchukov et al. (eds.) 2010). Linguistic Typology 18. 533–551.

  • Croft, William (in preparation). Morphosyntax: Constructions of the world’s languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Croft, William & Keith T. Poole. 2008. Inferring universals from grammatical variation: multidimensional scaling for typological analysis. Theoretical Linguistics 34. 1–37.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and aspect systems. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Dixon, R. M. W. 1977. Where have all the adjectives gone? Studies in Language 1. 19–80.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Dixon, R. M. W. 2010. Basic linguistic theory, Vol. 2: Grammatical topics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Evans, Nicholas & Toshiki Osada. 2005. Mundari and argumentation in word-class analysis. Linguistic Typology 9. 442–457.

  • Fillmore, Charles J., Paul Kay & Mary Catherine O’Connor. 1988. Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: The case of let alone. Language 64). 501–538.

  • García Macías, José Hugo. 2016. From the unexpected to the unbelievable: Thetics, miratives and exclamatives in conceptual space. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico doctoral dissertation.

  • Givón, Talmy. 1979. On understanding grammar. New York: Academic Press.

  • Givón, Talmy. 2001. Syntax, Volume 1. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

  • Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in structural linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Haspelmath, Martin. 2003. The geometry of grammatical meaning: Semantic maps and cross-linguistic comparison. In Michael Tomasello (ed.), The new psychology of language: Cognitive and functional approaches to language structure, Vol. 2, 211–242. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  • Haspelmath, Martin. 2010. Comparative concepts and descriptive categories in crosslinguistic studies. Language 86. 663–687.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Haspelmath, Martin. 2012. How to compare major word-classes across the world’s languages. In Thomas Graf, Denis Paperno, Anna Szabolcsi & Jos Tellings (eds.), Theories of everything: In honor of Edward Keenan (UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics 17), 109–130. Los Angeles: UCLA. http://www.linguistics.ucla.edu/faciliti/wpl/issues/wpl17/wpl17.html

  • Jagersma, Abraham Hendrik. 2010. A descriptive grammar of Sumerian. Leiden: Universiteit Leiden doctoral dissertation.

  • Keenan, Edward L. & Bernard Comrie. 1977. Noun phrase accessibility and universal grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8. 63–99.

  • Lazard, Gilbert. 1975. La catégorie de l’éventuel. In Mélanges linguistiques offers à Émile Benveniste, 347–358. Leuven: Peeters.

  • Levinson, Stephen C., Sérgio Meira, and the Language and Cognition Group. 2003. ‘Natural concepts’ in the spatial topological domain – adpositional meanings in crosslinguistic perspective: An exercise in semantic typology. Language 79. 485–516.

  • Majid, Asifa, James S. Boster, Melissa Bowerman. 2008. The cross-linguistic categorization of everyday events: A study of cutting and breaking. Cognition 109. 235–250.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Malchukov, Andrej, Martin Haspelmath & Bernard Comrie (eds.). 2010. Studies in ditransitive constructions: A comparative handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

  • McCawley, James D. 1998. The syntactic phenomena of English. 2nd edn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Mulder, Jean Gail. 1994. Ergativity in Coast Tsimshian (Sm’algyax). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Palmer, Bill. 2009. Kokota grammar (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications 35). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

  • Regier, Terry, Naveen Khetarpal & Asifa Majid. 2013. Inferring semantic maps. Linguistic Typology 17. 89–105.

  • Rogers, Phillip. 2015. Illustrating the prototype structures of parts of speech: A multidimensional scaling analysis. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico MA thesis.

  • Schachter, Paul & Timothy Shopen. 2007. Parts of speech systems. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Language typology and syntactic description (2nd edn.), Vol. 1: Clause structure, 1–60. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Stassen, Leon. 2009. Predicative possession. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


or
Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

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.

Search