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Comparative concepts and language-specific categories: Theory and practice

William Croft
From the journal Linguistic Typology

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.

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Received: 2016-3-7
Published Online: 2016-9-27
Published in Print: 2016-10-1

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