On the Linguistic Tower of Babel

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Stephen Carlson
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On the Linguistic Tower of Babel

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 17th, 2012, 2:36 pm

Martin Haspelmath, a linguistic typologist, has some thoughts about dealing the linguistic Tower of Babel or the swamp of linguistic terminology (choose your metaphor) here: http://dlc.hypotheses.org/332

Here is an excerpt:
I have sometimes wondered why terminological confusion arises again and again, despite our best efforts to be rigorous and comprehensible to our colleagues. It seems that it’s a combination of neophobia (avoidance of neologisms, for fear of appearing extravagant) and naive categorial universalism. When Fillmore (1968) developed a theory of the syntactic realization of semantic roles, he used the old term “case”, which was previously used in a much more restricted way. Why didn’t he introduce a novel term for a novel concept? Fillmore apparently thought that people would be more willing to accept his new ideas if he didn’t scare them by using a new term (and maybe he was right). But he also thought that “deep case” in his sense was a universal innate category, and that the surface variations in its realization were not important. So from this universalist position, it makes perfect sense to ask: “How is case expressed in English, or in Mandarin?”
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

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Joined: May 6th, 2011, 8:52 pm
Location: Washington

Re: On the Linguistic Tower of Babel

Post by MAubrey » December 17th, 2012, 8:15 pm

It's an interesting example he's chosen for our purposes, since there have now been at least two publications in Koine/NT Greek grammar in the past 15 years that have missed the fact that Fillmore's "deep case" isn't the same thing as morphological case in their literature reviews.

The problem is only going to get worse for Greek without significant effort on the front end of things moving forward.
Mike Aubrey, Linguist

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