On the right of being a comparative concept

Yury Lander 1  and Peter Arkadiev 2
  • 1 National Research University Higher School of Economics; Institute of Oriental Studies RAS, 105066 Moskva, Russian Federation; Institut vostokovedenija Rossijskoj akademii nauk (IV RAN)
  • 2 Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences; 119991 Moskva, Russian Federation; Russian State University for the Humanities; Moscow State Pedagogical University
Yury Lander and Peter Arkadiev


We provide a critical review of the distinction between “comparative concepts” and “descriptive categories”, showing that in current typological practice the former are usually dependent on the latter and are often vague, being organized around prototypes rather than having sharp boundaries. We also propose a classification of comparative concepts, arguing that their definitions can be based on similarities between languages or on differences between languages or can also be “blind” to language-particular facts. We conclude that, first, comparative concepts and descriptive categories are ontologically not as distinct as some typologists would like to have it, and, second, that attempts at a “non-aprioristic” approach to linguistic description and language typology are more of an illusion than reality or even a desideratum.

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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.