FRAMEWORK-FREE LINGUISTICS.

A reader sent me a link to Martin Haspelmath’s 2008 paper “Framework-free grammatical theory” (pdf), which appeared last year in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis (a steal at under $300!). Having been out of the field for decades, I have no idea how his ideas fit into what professional linguists are now doing and thinking, but I like them very much; they echo what I’ve been saying since my grad school days:

Most linguists seem to agree that we should approach any language without prejudice and describe it in its own terms, non-aprioristically, overcoming possible biases from our native language, from the model of a prestige language (such as Latin or English), or from an influential research tradition (such as that of Donatus’s Latin grammar, or Chomsky’s generative grammar). I argue that this is absolutely essential if we want to come even close to doing justice to our research object, and that moreover any grammatical framework is precisely such a “prejudice” that we want to avoid. Frameworks set up expectations about what phenomena languages should, can and cannot have, and once a framework has been adopted, it is hard to free oneself from the perspective and the constraints imposed by it. What we need instead is the researcher’s ability to discover completely new, unexpected phenomena, to detect previously unsuspected connections between phenomena, and to be guided solely by the data and one’s own thinking.

I would be most interested in the reactions of any linguists in the crowd (and, of course, in those of others as well).

Comments

  1. I had Mathew Dryer for Typology and Syntax in grad school. He used the term “basic theory” and it’s essentially the same as Haspelmath’s “Framework free” idea. I definitely preferred it pedagogically. I would not have been happy to be constrained by a theory when learning linguistics.
    It’s also worth noting that computational linguists have always been essentially framework-free too. The same could be said of phonetics, pragmatics, most of linguistics really.

  2. I’m delighted to hear it!

  3. The same could be said of phonetics, pragmatics, most of linguistics really.
    Just say what we all think, Chris: it’s the syntacticians, they messed it all up :)
    I read this paper a while ago and my first reaction was relief: my training in linguistics (such as it was) did make a point of avoiding any particular theoretical framework, but I constantly found myself the odd man out, a heathen among fervent believers.
    That quote by Givón in the conclusion is right on the money.

  4. I don’t know, papers like this always irk me a bit. The author seems to act like every theoretical linguist is doomed because they have adopted a theory to study. But look at how much syntactic theory (even sticking to the Chomskyan tradition) has changed in the past 40 years. And why has it changed? Because of new evidence from new languages. I think that theory-centric work, with an eye on comparative and typological data, is very enlightening. If the field as a whole goes to a “framework-free” mode, then soon enough, people will start to see patterns cross-linguistically, and new theories will emerge to explain these patterns. The author hints at this–he says after reading 20 “framework-free” grammars, you will begin to see patterns. Well, shouldn’t something be done to explain these patterns? As a linguist I say yes, and theoretical models are a fine choice for that purpose.
    I do agree that some people do get married to a theory and are too close-minded to properly analyze new and interesting data, but most aren’t, and the theory will change based on this new evidence.

  5. Also, to add some more information, I think the “framework-free” model is very good, if not essential, for describing new languages and writing grammars. But that doesn’t mean theoretical frameworks can’t then be applied to this data. (Or that this data can’t then mold theoretical frameworks.)

  6. I (a linguist and specifically a syntactician) find these arguments unpersuasive. The article proceeds by pointing out flaws of various “framework” analyses, but the proposed replacements are no better. In fact, they recapitulate the deficiencies that led to generative grammar theories in the first place. (Why does the German prefield have one constituent in most circumstances and zero in polar questions, and not 3 usually but sometimes 2? Why does Tagalog show signs of successive-cyclic wh-movement, if embedded clauses are just determiner + verb + arguments? Etc.)
    I cannot imagine a physicist publishing an article saying, “We have no chance of discovering the Higgs Boson, and even if we did it would not solve the problem of where gravity comes from. So we ought to close CERN and go back to tabulating meticulous measurements of planetary motion.” And it seems that this kind of retrenchment is what is proposed for linguistics.
    That said, I think it is interesting to compare syntax and semantics in this regard. Chomsky is still with us and has (for better or for worse) been the guiding light of the field for over 50 years. Semantics’ analogue of Chomsky (Montague) died before he could revise his theories once, let alone 3 or 4 times. And, while semantics has its few malcontents, the central tenets of Montagovian thought are accepted to a large degree. I am less familiar with the phonology literature, but my impression is that they behaved mostly like semanticists until the introduction of OT, and now behave relatively more like syntacticians.

  7. 1. It’s easy to see how Haspelmath’s work leads into the “framework-free” approach. One of his main projects is being an editors for the World Atlas of Language Structures (also featured earlier on languagehat). It’s easy to see limitations in aprioristic theories when you’re searching precisely for the most “weird” features of a large number of languages.
    2. For a more specific example see this paper where he challenges the notion of “word” (therefore the morphology/syntax distinction) as a linguistic universal. Of course, if you’re disputing words you might as well deny word classes.
    3. I’m still starting with linguistic historiography, but if we’re wont to give -isms to everyone, could we call Haspelmath (to his chagrin) a neo-descriptivist?
    4. What I’m most curious about this paper is the claim that “there are many linguists who carry out theoretical research on grammar but do not work within a theoretical framework”. This is something that’s simply not mentioned in my education; from what we learn one gets the impression that either you spend your life polishing the minutiæ of Chomskian deep structures and transformations, or you aren’t a real linguist. (And likewise, any utterance that doesn’t fit the current generative model of a given language is “performance” and should be ignored—often the very utterances I find most interesting.)
    For example, I was interested in a better linguistic understanding of Japanese than that of gakkō bunpō, and Jim Breen kindly pointed me to Martin’s reference grammar. My generativist friend quickly dismissed it because it’s framework-free. I’ve been browsing the thing on occasion (it’s huge) and it’s easily the most interesting & illuminating thing I’ve ever read on Japanese. Why didn’t anyone tell me people can do work like that?
    I don’t mind framework-bound research; I do mind the attitude that our particular framework is the correct one and therefore all problems outside its area of interest are nonproblems.
    5. Haspelmath: «If there are no frameworks, then what should I teach my students in syntax classes? My answer is: The best syntax class is a field methods course, and the second best syntax class is a typology course. If we want to understand the nature of syntax, we have to study the syntactic patterns of concrete languages, preferably unfamiliar languages, to broaden our horizons.»
    As a student, all I can say is I’d love if the local faculty shared this view.

  8. For a non-Chomskian example of what I’m saying about restricting oneself to the problems that interest a framework, consider Berlin-Kay’s hypothesis on color naming. Notice how eagerly Lakoff relies on it to support cognitivist principles, then see the way the hypothesis was widely contested by people working with particular languages; like Lyons citing an anthropologist specialized on Hanuno’o, McNeill citing native Japanese sources on color terminology, and so on (just search around for Berlin-Kay). My point is that it’s too easy to not see or dismiss “quirky” anomalous facts when you’re interested in validating a paradigm; therefore, having fact-oriented, framework-defying researchers around is healthy and should be encouraged—particularly so in a science like linguistics, where (unlike physics or medicine) a dozen paradigms coexist without clear empirical evidence of what’s the best one.

  9. This is something often discussed in relation to linguistic fieldwork and documentation. One of my favourite papers on the topic is David Gil’s ‘Escaping Eurocentrism: fieldwork as a process of unlearning’, in Newman and Ratliff’s excellent ‘Lingusitic Fieldwork.’ (Daniel Hieber has a nice summary of the topic here http://danielhieber.com/2011/08/17/escaping-eurocentrism-in-language/)
    Regardless of one’s theoretical position, if you start working with a new language and expect to find similar patterns as in other languages you’re going to throw yourself off at some point!

  10. I’ve been out of the field for about as long as Hat, but I did find this a little odd (from Nick’s comment):
    And why has it changed? Because of new evidence from new languages.
    My feeling about early Generative Grammar is that it changed because people kept getting more theoretically ambitious in describing English, not in describing other languages. The one that sticks in my mind to this day was the proposal to derive ‘kill’ from ’cause to die’, which seems to have been from Lakoff. It was a completely goofy suggestion and was based solely on English. Even the most basic evidence from foreign languages should have been enough to scotch it before it was published.
    Perhaps I’m thrashing a very long-dead horse, but this is the sort of thing that put me off generative grammar. I wanted to learn about language, not about linguists with Lego sets.

  11. Is a ‘framework’ what I would call a ‘model’? If it is, I’m strongly on the side of having one, or, at least, seeking one. Here’s a few reasons:
    1) The real choice is not between having a model and not having a model–it’s between having a model you’re aware of and having a model you’re not aware of. I’ll add the obvious disclaimer– one should hold a critical attitude towards any model. And, by the way, pure empiricism is a model and it doesn’t work.
    2) There’s a distinction between models and heuristics, and one needs to be aware of both. If you don’t have a model, then heuristics aren’t even in your field-of-view. An example of a heuristic is “Make the strongest possible assumption that doesn’t lead to a contradiction.”
    3) To me, having a model means being aware of the history and happenstance in your field of study. Now, I know that for some people having a model means imagining that people who disagree are consigned to an auto-da-fe. That’s -not- what I’m talking about.

  12. Aaron: It seems to me rather that The Physics Analogy in this case would be something like: Our best model of reality can’t explain things like dark matter or the accelerating universe, and we have trouble reconciling quantum models with gravity, so we should encourage a healthy skepticism of the current paradigm, probe its limitations experimentally, and actively search for alternative theories. Which are all things physicists do.
    What’s more, they are exceedingly cautious about deep abstractions that get too far from falsifiability (so that string theory is widely distrusted). Physicists can be noncommittal to the extreme; while Feynman has once brilliantly explained electromagnetic fields as “made of” photons, current physicists prefer to say something vague about how electric fields “can be described by”“virtual”photons (despite the empirical fact that photons are the carrier particle of the electromagnetic energy). Their point (I suppose) is keeping in mind Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory”.

  13. It sounds to me like the main gripe here is not “frameworks”, but “bad science”. It’s important to keep an open mind when looking at data, and to be willing to admit that you’re wrong if that’s what the data implies. I would guess that most sciences have had periods where they weren’t so good at this (certainly the behavioral sciences have), and I know Linguistics has had its share.
    But as Nick says, don’t we want to explain the patterns we find? What is that if not a framework or a theory? (Can you tell that I’m still an idealistic young grad student, yet? If not, you are hereby notified. :) )
    That said, I’m not studying syntactic theory, but the acquisition of (first language) syntax. One of the reasons for that is that the tweaking of particular transformations to account for particular sentences started to seem misguided to me – and definitely didn’t inspire me as a possible career path. To me, what’s amazing about syntax is that you can get so far with reasonably simple, mathematical structures: say, binary trees, a handful of grammatical categories, limited transformations* and some assumed lexical knowledge about how particular words behave. Sure it doesn’t explain every quirk of language, but why should language be so structured in the first place? Why don’t we just string together content words and hope context will indicate their relationship? Context is a powerful cue. Is it something about how we learn language? Something about how our brains process it when we use it as adults? (This is why I get excited about Psycholinguistics)
    *Ok, transformations are extremely powerful, but still, you can limit them pretty severely, and still describe a lot.

  14. @Nick,
    after reading 20 “framework-free” grammars, you will begin to see patterns. Well, shouldn’t something be done to explain these patterns?
    AFTER is the operative word here and the whole point. You first study the subject and then make theories.
    @Aaron,
    The article proceeds by pointing out flaws of various “framework” analyses, but the proposed replacements are no better.
    Really? This is what Haspelmath suggests:
    “What we need instead is the researcher’s ability to discover completely new, unexpected
    phenomena, to detect previously unsuspected connections between phenomena, and to be
    guided solely by the data and one’s own thinking.”
    How’s that not better that a blind adherence to whatever theoretical model de jour one subscribes to?
    And if you really want a comparison with physics, how about “Say, fellas, that phlogiston thing really doesn’t work when you think about…”?

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    It seems wrong a priori (as it were) to condemn using a “prestigious research tradition” as a starting point for the sorting/interpretation of data from a hitherto unanalyzed or underanalyzed language. If Sprachwissenschaft were doing well as an empirical science, a research tradition would be viewed as prestigious precisely because it was a demonstrably useful tool in such situations. Now, perhaps the real problem is that the actual “frameworks” currently on offer aren’t actually very good, and have acquired their prestige for other reasons. But otherwise this seems like an argument that a botanist should describe a newly-discovered flower “on its own terms” without reference to any preexisting knowledge base of accumulated understandings of how previously-studied flowers typically work and what sorts of variations over what ranges have previously been observed. That seems like some sort of weird ascetic desideratum that would entail a lot of wheel-reinvention. And of course it’s difficult to do useful typological/comparative work if each language has been described by researchers who deliberately placed themselves in some sort of pristine isolation chamber.

  16. My problem with this view is that it’s essentially meaningless. *Everything* in linguistic analysis is a theoretical construct, from the way we write the examples (IPA anyone? Phonemes?) to words to paradigms to discourse. I have no problem with expectations about what languages can and cannot have, though I would prefer the term ‘hypotheses’ — hypotheses are testable, and recognising good hypotheses and testing them is important. But you can’t do that unless you know a lot about how we think language works.

  17. I know nothing of linguistics but I do know a bit about mathematical modelling. Several times in the past I have cut off someone who was saying something to the effect of “Models are all very well, but in the real world…” by remarking that “the real world” was one of the most unsatisfactory models around. I think this places me with Claire, and with Mattf’s point (1).
    Mind you, I can imagine that Linguistics might be burdened with doctrines that might obscure as much as they reveal. The great thing with math models is to be acutely aware of their limitations – it is very common among mathematical modellers to make risibly high-falutin’ claims for their work. Scoundrels, all too many of them.

  18. If Sprachwissenschaft were doing well as an empirical science, a research tradition would be viewed as prestigious precisely because it was a demonstrably useful tool in such situations.
    But it’s not, except in the sense that Marxism-Leninism was “doing well as an empirical science” in the USSR. As long as you can get away with endless tweaking of your epicycles, I mean transformational rules, to make everything fit the sacred framework, everything’s hunky-dory. Since planes don’t fall out of the sky as a result, there’s no perceived need to change the situation, which after all brings tenure and professional respect to all concerned.
    Now, perhaps the real problem is that the actual “frameworks” currently on offer aren’t actually very good, and have acquired their prestige for other reasons.
    Bingo!

  19. Claire,
    *Everything* in linguistic analysis is a theoretical construct
    I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying correctly, but if I do, then let me just point out that we’re talking about two different things: first, we have a metalanguage that gives names to observable phenomena and relationships between them, even if the boundaries between the phenonena are not always that clear and one term may not be universally applicable. And then there is a metalanguage (or metalanguages) that invents concepts based on its limited understanding of one part of the field and then seeks to impose them universally. In other words, there is a world of difference between talking about nouns, tenses or consonants and talking about transformations, optimality or movements.
    I have no problem with expectations about what languages can and cannot have
    I do, because it goes against what science is all about. Also, of what use would this be?

  20. J. W. Brewer says:

    Speaking of perhaps-now-superseded epicycles, I opened a box of old books today that had for some reason been in my office rather than home for the last umpty-ump years and came across the texts I was compelled to purchase for an introductory syntax class in the fall of 1985: C.L. Baker’s Introduction to Generative-Transformational Syntax and Andrew Radford’s Transformational Syntax: A Student’s Guide to Chomsky’s Extended Standard Theory. I would say “the horror, the horror,” except I think my grade in the class reflects that I probably didn’t really read either book.

  21. I’m sympathetic to the idea of approaching new languages — and for that matter familiar ones — without (clinging to) preconceptions.
    But there’s another danger here, which anyone who has looked seriously at more than a few grammars will recognize. It’s common to find that the same phenomenon is described in superficially quite different ways, to the point that it takes quite a lot of work to see the relationship. This is just as likely to happen because different preconceptionless authors develop their ideas in random directions, as because different ideologically-committed authors bow to different theoretical idols.

  22. michael farris says:

    “I have no problem with expectations about what languages can and cannot have
    I do, because it goes against what science is all about. Also, of what use would this be?”
    In fieldwork kinds of situations the fewer preconceptions the fieldworker has the more likely they are to find and understand the really typologically interesting parts of the language.
    I can’t imagine any real linguist believing in theoretically unlimited diversity but it’s a good heuristic guide when faced with a new language.
    In the field methods classes I’ve taken (and led) I found a basic pattern: Something I thought I knew about the language ahead of time would lead me astray and make things more difficult to understand (and make me feel like a big idiot).
    The field methods language that went most easily was the one I knew least about (there were the usual kinds of difficulties and unresolved issues but I never had the feeling that I’d wasted a lot of time chasing after the wrong goat (as it were).
    Of course lots of kinds of linguistics need to work within a framework but no single framework is going to work for everything (or every language).

  23. To second bulbul’s point, I think one has to distinguish between frameworks as notational conventions, which often bury their durable data beneath a shadowy canopy of notational ephemera, and frameworks of widely accepted analytical types and terms, which make novel data decipherable and comparable to what others already know.
    I remember attending a fellow PNG fieldworker’s dissertation defense before I had finished my own. He had produced a 600-page grammar of a previously undescribed language but was taking flak from a theory-peddling professor for being too eclectic in choosing which theoretical devices to employ when trying to elucidate various phenomena. The professor (who refused to sign the dissertation) felt it more important to tweak some passing ostensibly universal framework toward perfection for his tiny cadre of disciples (and to one-up his theoretical opponents) than to make the description more useful for a more diverse audience in later generations. I was incensed, and made a lifelong enemy by speaking up and defending electicity in grammatical descriptions. He was especially pissed that I characterized his theory as “fly by night” when compared to a living language.

  24. Healthy empiricism is always a good thing. I’d had tremendous misgivings about the current state of linguistic theory until I was drawn to corpus linguistics, with its goal of explaining actual language in actual use.
    Then again, data by itself has no more scientific insight than words by themselves have meaning. Science is a matter of active interpretation, and therefore involves building a model (although, as MattF rightly says, it can be a model you are perfectly unaware of).
    I find it surprising that this particular horse is being beaten back to life after the tremendous empirical work science and technology scholars have done to bury it. It is true that frameworks set up expectations, but without those expectations we would have no idea of where to look for meaningful patterns. If the weight of amassed evidence forces us to review some aspect of the framework (or even the whole of it) every so often, I don’t see any problems.
    Haspelmath’s arguments make me think of a person who, arguing that sight yields only a partial image of the material world, thinks it’s just as useful to walk about with eyes closed.
    (Nota bene: none of this should be construed as an endorsement of Chomskyan syntactical theory, which I believe has outlived its usefulness and become a dangerous and bothersome zombie. But I think the problem lies in how the theory has been taught and used, not least by the old man himself, than in its merely being a theory. In the words of Robin Lakoff, generativism means “accepting the impossibility of saying almost everything that might be interesting, anything normal people might want or need to know about language”. But that’s not true of every theory, and in fact people like Michael Stubbs go to great pains to articulate the speaker’s experience of the language with theoretical systematisations.)

  25. (Cross-posted at Jabal al-Lughat.)
    I’ve been reading Martin Haspelmath’s other papers, and I found one of them on the European Sprachbund [PDF scanned sideways] very interesting. This one’s on equatives and similatives, but it’s the Sprachbund itself, which he calls “Standard Average European” in a hat tip to Whorf, that really gets my attention. There are a couple of other papers, not online, that apparently discuss the idea.
    The core languages of the Sprachbund are Romance, Balto-Slavic, West Germanic, and the languages of the Balkan Sprachbund. The periphery includes North Germanic, Hungarian, Finnic, Armenian, and Georgian (perhaps because of Greek influence on the last two?). English and French are on the boundary between core and periphery. The weird languages of Europe — Celtic, Basque, Maltese, Turkish, the other Uralic languages, and the languages of the Caucasus — are definitely excluded.

  26. John,
    have you read Heine and Kuteva’s “The Changing Languages of Europe”?

  27. Huh. Here’s the description of the book from that publisher page:

    This book shows that the languages and dialects of Europe are becoming increasingly alike and furthermore that this unifying process goes back to Roman times, is accelerating, and affects every European language including those of different families such as Basque and Finnish. The unifying process involves every grammatical aspect of the languages and operates through changes so minute that native speakers fail to notice them. The authors reveal when, how, and why common grammatical structures have evolved and continue to evolve in processes of change that will transform the linguistic landscape of Europe.

    Sounds… interesting, but I’m always dubious of these groundbreaking, earthshattering new theories. Are people taking it seriously?

  28. Oy vey. Ignore that description, besides from being way too marketingy, it is even slightly misleading. The “every grammatical aspect” bit, for example, is almost certainly not what the authors are saying. In fact, they focus on a small number of structures (e.g. articles, possessive perfect, comitative vs. instrumental) and analyze their history and spread in quite detail. And as for the earthshatteringness, they are quite reserved and skeptical/critical of real grandiose theories like Euroversals (features unique to SAE languages) and Europemes. I do have my reservations/criticisms*, but all in all, it is a rigorous work on typology and historical linguistics and the ideas in it should be taken seriously.
    *For example, there’s this map on page 119. Anybody venture a guess why it made my blood boil?

  29. Perhaps because the authors chose a map of such small scale that it didn’t allow them to fit horizontal stripes on to the Faro Isles? I’m with you on this, graphically it’s a disaster.
    I don’t know if you noticed, but they claim to have no info on Slovakia & Czechia. What a thing to have to admit in a book about European languages. I’d want some money back.

  30. I don’t know if you noticed
    I did, hence the reference to the temperatures inside my vascular system.
    What a thing to have to admit in a book about European languages.
    Right? Right??? To be fair, they had some Czech and Slovak examples in the chapter on possessive perfectives (one for each), but the Czech was horrible misspelled.
    Still, a great book. Just needs some additional work.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Bulbul, I was shocked to see those gaping holes in the map, in the middle of Europe.
    On the other hand, even though I consider myself a linguist, I must confess to total ignorance about “possessive perfectives”. Bulbul, can you enlighten me?
    Graphic design: is the map all black and white, or is there some colour in the published version? the way it shows on my screen, with the exception of “stage 1″ I cannot tell the key squares from each other.

  32. Bulbul: the fact that they have “no information” on Moldavia either, despite the language there being (basically) Romanian, which they seemingly do have information on, is even odder (unless they lacked information on the impact upon the non-standard Romanian of Moldavia of Russian, which indeed might have an effect on the syntax of articles). I read the book some time ago and had the impression that, interesting though it was, it had been researched/written in a bit of a hurry: the map confirms that impression.

  33. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Little is known of the grammar of the natives of the mysterious Hermit Kingdom of Czecho-Slovakia. Ever since the powerful shogun Tomasu Masaryoku expelled all foreign missionaries from its shores, restricted international trade to the Dutch East India Co.’s meager toehold in Bratislava harbor, and ordered summary capital punishment for anyone found engaged in linguistic fieldwork, typological scholars with an instinct for self-preservation have found other topics for their research.”

  34. m-l,
    To quote the book:
    “What we call the possessive perfect has been referred to by a wide range of labels, such as possessive construction, ‘have’-perfect, Romance perfect, stative perfect, resultative past, resultative perfect, perfect II, and the like.”
    Whike Slavic languages use the be-perfect, they also display a type of possessive perfect structures, so:
    Napísal som.
    COMPL-write-PAST.PART I am
    I have written
    vs.
    Mám napísané
    I have COMPL-write-PASS.PART
    I have written
    There are pragmatic and possibly stylistical differences that need a good looking into, but it’s definitely an areal feature. I blame the Germans.
    M

  35. Etienne,
    That is a very charitable explanation. My suspicion, based on their choice of examples and references, is that this is one those broad comparative studies where the authors are pretty good with one group of languages (both practically and theoretically), but not that good with others. Happens a lot, unfortunately.
    This shouldn’t distract from the overall value of the work, it’s just something that should be remedied in further research.

  36. David Marjanović says:
    after reading 20 “framework-free” grammars, you will begin to see patterns. Well, shouldn’t something be done to explain these patterns?

    AFTER is the operative word here and the whole point. You first study the subject and then make theories.

    And then you test your theories. How? By studying more of the subject – in many cases that’s going to mean more languages – and looking if your theories apply to them.
    Indeed, for this it doesn’t even matter how you formed your theories in the first place, whether by looking at the data and waiting for a pattern to emerge (induction) or by wishful thinking or whatever. The critical part is the test.
    (Basic science theory. Almost never taught. Somehow, scientists are expected to absorb it by osmosis.)

    *Everything* in linguistic analysis is a theoretical construct, from the way we write the examples (IPA anyone? Phonemes?) to words to paradigms to discourse.

    Hey, it’s only science. :-)

    But there’s another danger here, which anyone who has looked seriously at more than a few grammars will recognize. It’s common to find that the same phenomenon is described in superficially quite different ways, to the point that it takes quite a lot of work to see the relationship. This is just as likely to happen because different preconceptionless authors develop their ideas in random directions, as because different ideologically-committed authors bow to different theoretical idols.

    QFT.

    For example, there’s this map on page 119. Anybody venture a guess why it made my blood boil?

    *Picard & Riker double facepalm*
    Horror. They took a political map, added about 10 extra lines to it, and then added the hatching within 10 seconds. And I do hope it’s in color somewhere.

    “Little is known of the grammar of the natives of the mysterious Hermit Kingdom of Czecho-Slovakia. Ever since the powerful shogun Tomasu Masaryoku expelled all foreign missionaries from its shores, restricted international trade to the Dutch East India Co.’s meager toehold in Bratislava harbor, and ordered summary capital punishment for anyone found engaged in linguistic fieldwork, typological scholars with an instinct for self-preservation have found other topics for their research.”

    Day saved!

    There are pragmatic and possibly stylistical differences that need a good looking into, but it’s definitely an areal feature. I blame the Germans.

    That would explain the existence of have-pasts in Czech and Slovak (do they exist in any other Slavic languages?), but not any difference in usage. German isn’t English, where “I wrote” and “I have written” don’t mean the same thing; and while (as in older English) both “have” and “be” are used, which one is used depends on the verb (again as in older English), it’s not possible to use both with the same verb as in your examples.
    While I am at it, who invented the have-past, and how often? It’s present today in English and German, but Wikipedia says it only appeared near the end of Old High German (so let’s say around the year 1000); was it imported from Romance twice separately, or what? – I recently found “[...] habent instituta supplicia” in De Bello Gallico, in a context where it’s impossible to translate as anything but “they have instituted punishments”, it’s not ambiguous like “Caesar urbem occupatam habet” (which could be “Caesar holds the occupied city”).

    Why does the German prefield have one constituent in most circumstances and zero in polar questions, and not 3 usually but sometimes 2?

    What does this mean? Could you give me examples?

  37. michael farris says:

    “have-pasts in Czech and Slovak (do they exist in any other Slavic languages?”
    I think they do in Polish. Some examples from google (note: the passive participle agrees with the object of have (unlike the old active participle ending in -ł that agrees with the subject and which forms the most common/only past tense in most modern Slavic languages).
    Mam napisaną pewną piosenkę.
    I have written certain song. I’ve written a song.
    (or more awkwardly I have a song written (by me).
    Mam kupiony telefon w erze.
    I have bought phone in Era(company) – I’ve bought an Era telephone.
    Film mam obejrzany do ostatniego odcinka
    Film I have seen to last episode – I’ve seen up to the last/most recent episode of the series.
    Masz odrobione lekcje?
    you have done lessons – Have you done your lessons/homework?

  38. michael farris says:

    I’ll just add that all the sentences I quoted could just as easily be expresed with the regular past tense (alternating gender of the subject randomly here)
    Napisałem pewną piosenkę
    Kupiłam telefon w erze
    Obejrzałem film do ostatniego odcinka
    Odrobiłaś lekcje?
    To me (non-native speaker) there’s a definite stylistic/pragmatic difference between the two forms but I have little idea what it might be. I think one partial difference is the forms with the past tense simply describe actions while the first three forms with ‘have’ point toward the future. The first three clearly have an element of ‘what now?’ about them. The last also suggests that finishing the homework is a condition to doing something afterward. But I could be wrong.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting.

    the first three forms with ‘have’ point toward the future. The first three clearly have an element of ‘what now?’ about them. The last also suggests that finishing the homework is a condition to doing something afterward.

    Curiouser and curiouser! Are they still a bit like “so, now I hold that finished letter in my hands, and what should I do with it now”?
    Because that would explain Caesar urbem occupatam habet quite nicely. And it makes habent instituta supplicia imaginable as “they have well-established punishments at their disposal to deal with such situations”.

    note: the passive participle agrees with the object of have

    From Italian, this was apparently reintroduced into French, but only when the object is a pronoun/clitic: j’ai écrit les lettres vs. je les ai écrites.
    In German, the participle agrees with “have” itself: lacking any gender/number/case ending, it looks like an adverb. Even English, where the same lack of an ending is precisely what makes it look like an adjective, doesn’t go that far.
    =========
    Do Polish, Czech or Slovak ever form pasts with “be” and the (passive) past participle?

  40. Bulbul: *sigh* Two linguists discussing linguistics…obviously understanding one another will be difficult, as linguists can’t communicate…what was my charitable explanation? The one explaining why Moldova is as blank as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, or my claim that the flaws of the book are due to its having been written in a hurry?
    David: There is an Indo-Europeanist, Bridget Drinka, who has argued that the “have”-perfect first arose in Greek and thence spread to Latin, and from there to (inter alia) Germanic, and presumably from German to Czech, Slovak and Polish (and I believe Sorbian also has a “have”-perfect). I heard the argument at a talk of hers, nearly a decade ago, and thus am unsure where she has presented this in print.
    David, Michael: the Polish contrast sounds very similar to the contrast in French between J’AI FAIT QUELQUE CHOSE “I did something” versus J’AI QUELQUE CHOSE DE FAIT “I have a thing which has been done” (So now what happens?).

  41. michael farris says:

    David: I’ve heard of something like that (including ‘passive’ past particples for intransitive verbs) but it was about either some dialect of Kashubian and/or local Polish variety in/near Kaszubia. But details are hazy (it was a long time ago).
    In mainstream Polish those would be present tense adjectives and/or present passives.
    Etienne: interesting, though bear in mind I’m not a native speaker and I could easily be wrong.
    Also, as far as I know there’s no conscious feeling of have + passive participle being a tense in any formal sense. I don’t remember seeing them in teaching grammars (or reference grammars for that matter though it’s been a long time since I looked at a Polish reference grammar).
    Since I work with a bunch of Polish linguists I guess I could ask but they don’t specialize in Polish (or are very, very prescriptive about Polish).

  42. Etienne,
    due to its having been written in a hurry
    That’s the charitable explanation, yes.
    The chapter on possessive perfects cites one of Drinka’s papers.
    David,
    have-pasts in Czech and Slovak (do they exist in any other Slavic languages?
    Oh yes. You got michael’s examples from Polish, virtually identical structures in Ukrainian, Sorbian, Slovenian… Virtually all Slavic languages have a variety of the possessive perfect. Heine and Kuteva speak of development stages 0-3 where 2 is what you’ll find in most Western European languages (“The construction expresses an event that occurred prior to the point of reference and has current
    relevance.”). Stage 1 – resultative perfects – is what most Slavic languages have, only North Russian, Southern Thracian Bulgarian and Southwestern Macedonian have stage 2 structures.
    Look, anybody wants, um, full access, you know where to find me.
    not any difference in usage
    Like many things, the Germans introduced it, what we did with it is a completely different thing.
    who invented the have-past, and how often?
    Ha, that’s the question, innit? Those arguing for monogenesis usually go back as far as Ancient Greek (see Drinka) > Latin > Romance > Germanic. Others argue for an independent innovation in Germanic and possibly Northern Russian.
    Do Polish, Czech or Slovak ever form pasts with “be” and the (passive) past participle?
    If by “passive past participle” you mean -tý/-ný participles (as opposed to -l participles), then no, at least for Czech and Slovak.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    There is an Indo-Europeanist, Bridget Drinka, who has argued that the “have”-perfect first arose in Greek and thence spread to Latin, and from there to (inter alia) Germanic

    Huh. Fascinating. bulbul, thanks for the Google Books link; 5 pages are “not part of this preview”, but the rest is fairly convincing on its own! Footnote 12, which explains what an “actional perfect” is and uses the English “present perfect” as its example, once again drives home how unusual German is in lacking such aspectual considerations. So, if the English usage is original, I can easily imagine the borrowing of the whole category of “actional perfect”, together with the way to form it, along a chain of language families. :-)

    Oh yes. You got michael’s examples from Polish, virtually identical structures in Ukrainian, Sorbian, Slovenian… Virtually all Slavic languages have a variety of the possessive perfect.

    Huh. Textbook Russian and a superficial glance at Serbocroatian have apparently given me a completely wrong impression. :-)

    Others argue for an independent innovation in Germanic and possibly Northern Russian.

    The “Russian (NW dialect)” example sentence in footnote 23 of the Google Books link looks like a really desperate calque to me…

    If by “passive past participle” you mean -tý/-ný participles (as opposed to -l participles), then no, at least for Czech and Slovak.

    Thanks.

  44. while (as in older English) both “have” and “be” are used, which one is used depends on the verb (again as in older English)
    It’s true that in older English be was heavily preferred for intransitives and that by the beginning of the 19th century, have had mostly taken its place. But during the intervening time, the two were sufficiently prevalent, and with the same verb, that it doesn’t work to say that it’s entirely lexical. There’s something of context or meaning.
    In Modern English, participles used adjectivally lead to “they’re gone” vs. “they’ve gone.” Not analyzing the former as a perfect is somewhat the extreme of the semantic distinction.

  45. One of the core problems involved in determining whether the “have”-perfect is a case of diffusion or of parallel innovations lies in the fact that there aren’t that many languages with a separate verb “to have”, and even fewer of these are diachronically well-attested. Hence it is difficult to establish how “expected”/”normal” the rise of a “have”-perfect is.
    In the specific case of Latin-to-Germanic the strongest argument in favor of diffusion, to my mind, is the timing (I think Meillet was the first to make this point): the earliest known Germanic language, Gothic, has no “have”-perfect, whereas all later Germanic languages do (Runic Germanic does not, but the corpus is so limited that its absence there might be accidental): the fact that other Germanic languages have far more Latin loanwords than Gothic is much more consistent with a case of grammatical diffusion from Latin to Germanic than with a coincidental/accidental rise of a “have”-perfect in both groups.
    My hunch –for whatever that’s worth– is that the North Russian construction, in Europe, is the likeliest instance of a “have”-perfect whose rise is a language-internal matter.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    But during the intervening time, the two were sufficiently prevalent, and with the same verb, that it doesn’t work to say that it’s entirely lexical.

    Oh. I had no idea.

    In Modern English, participles used adjectivally lead to “they’re gone” vs. “they’ve gone.” Not analyzing the former as a perfect is somewhat the extreme of the semantic distinction.

    German not only makes this same difference, it has lexicalized it: sie sind weg vs. sie sind weggegangen.

    My hunch –for whatever that’s worth– is that the North Russian construction, in Europe, is the likeliest instance of a “have”-perfect whose rise is a language-internal matter.

    I said it looks like a desperate calque because it doesn’t even involve a verb “to have”. Russian has such a thing (иметь), but practically never uses it; the example sentence uses the normal workaround, “at … is”.

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