LINGUIST List 14.2411

Fri Sep 12 2003

Review: Typology: Dixon & Aikhenvald, eds. (2002)

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  • Simon Musgrave, Word: A cross-linguistic typology

    Message 1: Word: A cross-linguistic typology

    Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2003 18:18:59 +0000
    From: Simon Musgrave <>
    Subject: Word: A cross-linguistic typology

    Dixon, R.M.W. and Aikhenvald, Alexandra, eds. (2002) Word: A cross-linguistic typology Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0 521 81899 0 (Hardback) ppxiii/290

    Announced at

    Simon Musgrave, Monash University

    This book collects some of the papers presented at a workshop in 2000. It consists of an introduction by the editors which sets out a framework for identifying words cross-linguistically, nine papers each using that framework to deal with data from a specific language or family of languages, and a concluding chapter. Indexes of authors, of languages and families, and of subjects are included.

    Chapter 1 (R.M.W. Dixon and Alexandra Aikhenvald, D&A) proposes a framework for the typological study of word. D&A survey previous approaches from the 1930s on, contrasting those which accept word as a valid unit of analysis with those which reject it entirely. They also draw attention to some confusions to be avoided: word and lexeme, and word and orthographic word. The approach to word which D&A set out relies on the distinction between phonological word (p-word) and grammatical word (g-word). A p-word is a unit of at least one syllable defined on the basis of one or more criteria from three sets of possibilities:

    i) segmental restrictions ii) prosodic features iii)constituting a domain for phonological processes.

    A g-word is a grouping of grammatical elements which always occur together, in a fixed order, and have a conventionalized coherence and meaning. Additional diagnostics which D&A treat as tendencies include: word-level morphological processes are non-recursive; inflectional affixes are limited to one per word; pauses may occur between words but not within them; and words can form complete utterances on their own. The default, according to D&A, is that p-words and g-words coincide, but mismatches are possible. The obvious case is that of clitics, which in D&A's terms (and for many others) are g-words but not p-words. They form part of p-words which contain two or more g- words. Examples of other possible mismatches are given: compounds, which are single g-words but may be two or more p-words; and rare instances of more complex relations between the two sorts of word. The chapter concludes with comments on orthography, whether word should be taken as a universal of grammar, and the social status of the concept word in speech communities (it is common for languages with no written form to lack a lexeme for the concept). An appendix illustrates the application of D&A's criteria to Fijian.

    The second chapter is by Alexandra Aikhenvald (A), and proposes a set of parameters which can be used to situate clitics on a gradient between more word-like elements and more affix-like elements. The second part of the chapter illustrates the application of this approach to Tariana (Arawak, Amazonia). A suggests 15 parameters which together can give a 'scalar definition of clitics' (43). The discussion did not make clear to me exactly how this was to be interpreted. At least one parameter (A -- DIRECTIONALITY) seems to me to be a matter of discrete categories (proclisis, enclisis and mesoclisis), and a value must be assigned for every clitic (excepting sign language). How this parameter contributes to a scalar definition is therefore puzzling. Also, other parameters seem to be scalar in themselves (e.g. B -- SELECTIVITY and F -- PHONOLOGICAL COHESION). A multidimensional scalar variable can be based on several unidimensional scalar variables, but the mathematical possibilities rapidly become daunting. Finally, it seems to me to be a weakness of this approach that it will not easily handle interactions between parameters. For example, a language might exist in which determiner clitics occur at the left boundary of nominal constituents, but attach phonologically to a preceding element. In such a case, selectivity would be overridden by a phonological preference general in the language. A seems to treat all fifteen parameters as on one level, and this sort of effect might therefore be difficult to accommodate. However, A's approach demonstrates its usefulness as a tool in the second part of the chapter, where it provides the categories for comparisons between affixes and clitics, and between various types of clitics in Tariana.

    Chapters 3-5 and 7-10 deal with the word in various languages as set out here:

    Ch Language Author 3 Cupik (Eskimo, Alaska) Woodbury (W) 4 Eastern/Central Arrente Henderson (He) (Arandic, Australia) 5 Jarawara (Araw´┐Ż, Amazonia) Dixon (D) 7 Siouan (N.America) Rankin, Boyle, Graczyk, Koontz 8 Dagbani (Gur, Ghana) Olawsky (O) 9 Georgian (Kartvelian, Georgia) Harris (Ha) 10 Modern Greek (IndoEuropean, Greece) Joseph (J)

    All of these chapters, except 10, use the approach set out in chapter 1. I give brief summaries of each below, with a little more detail for chapter 10 which raises important theoretical questions. Chapter 6 is also discussed in more detail after these summaries; it deals with the concept of word in sign languages and is quite distinct in approach.

    Woodbury (W) argues that inflectional morphology provides an adequate definition of g-words in Cupik, with only one complication in which phrasal units (not compounds) can be treated as bases. W also argues that stress assignment rules define the p-word in this language. However, stress assignment and other phonological processes operate differently where enclitics are present. W therefore proposes that the maximal domain of lexical phonology, in this case a g-word plus enclitics, should be considered the p-word. This necessitates the use of another category, which W calls PW- to account for the g-word phonological domain.

    He's discussion of Easter/Central Arrente is not always easy to follow, as it is based on Breen's analysis of the language having underlying VC(C) syllables (see Breen and Pensalfini 1999). The relation between underlying syllabification and surface patterns is not easy to understand. Nevertheless, He establishes that various phonological processes do operate in a domain which can be identified as p-word. He admits that 'there is no simple definition of grammatical word in ECA' (107), but describes a range of mismatches between g-word and p-word. Of particular interest are complex predicate structures, which often behave as two g-words (intervening material is sometimes allowed), but one p-word for most processes. Some evidence though points to the presence of two p-words, and He suggests that it may be necessary to allow for a higher level p-word, consisting of two simple p-words.

    The most interesting point in D's discussion of Jarawara is that the language has no clitics. Also of interest are the complexities of the suffix system of this language. The interaction of lexical verbs, suffixes and auxiliary verbs (which follow the main verb) is complex and fascinating, and D's description sets out the details with great clarity. The issue which is raised by this complexity is whether the whole predicate structure (main verb, auxiliaries and associated morphology) should be treated as a single g-word. D argues that the definition of g-word in Jarawara is straightforward and the relevant criteria rule out the analysis of predicates as single g-words. On this basis, the mismatches between p-word and g-word in this language are limited, with three possibilities for two p-words to match one g- word (including reduplication and compounding), and one case where two g-words form a single p-word.

    RBGK present data from various Siouan languages and introduce an explicitly diachronic thread in their discussion (in chapter 2, A has some discussion of the development of clitics and affixes from free forms, and in chapter 10, J discusses the relevance of the notion word in analyzing diachronic processes). They argue that D&A's criterion of fixed order within the g-word is problematic for at least some Siouan languages, where variation in the order of morphological material (especially locative prefixes and incorporated nouns) precludes any templatic analysis. Some cases also seem to allow the possibility of recursive morphological processes within a g-word. P-words are less problematic: the domain defined by primary accent can be taken as a p- word, although this can include an entire incorporated relative clause in Crow and Hidatsa, and exact boundaries between words may not be clear. Enclitics are also a subject of debate for Siouan languages, with some authors treating them as affixes. Of especial interest here is RBGK's discussion of the work of Boas and Deloria (1940). Ella Deloria was a native speaker of Dakota, and the orthography of the Dakota Grammar, which reflects her intuitions, presents a different and not fully consistent view of the phenomenon. RBGK suggest that synchronic complexity must be viewed from a diachronic perspective, and that progress towards identifying words can be made on this basis, even in complex and inconsistent language systems.

    P-words in Dagbani are unproblematic, according to O. The domain of stress assignment can be identified with the p-word, and other phonological processes also take this as their domain. Morphological criteria suffice to establish g-words in most cases, but compounds raise some problems. Stress treats compounds as a single unit (i.e. a p-word), but the elements are separate domains for vowel harmony, and lexical tone is maintained. This suggests that an analysis such as that He proposes for ECA in chapter 4, with two levels of p-word, might be useful here also. Adjectives cause two further complications. Firstly, there are lexicalized noun-adjective compounds with fossilized meaning, but there are also similar structures, used productively with compositional meaning. O argues that as the properties of the two are identical, they must be analyzed identically. Secondly, Dagbani has a small class of bound adjective morphemes. These cannot occur in isolation, but take number inflection like regular adjectives. O argues that they cannot be clitics, on the grounds of their morphological complexity, but also that they are not words or affixes. O's discussion of this class is not entirely clear. In one place he appears to say that the whole construction forms a single p-word and a single g-word, but elsewhere says that they 'display a significant mismatch between phonological and grammatical word: while [bound adjectives] are grammatical words, they cannot constitute a separate phonological word' (216). Dagbani also has a range of clitics whose properties vary tested against a set of properties (roughly a subset of A's parameters, but the correspondence is not exact). Some psycholinguistic experiments on the acceptability of pseudowords are briefly mentioned in an appendix; fuller discussion of this material would have been valuable. Ha's account presents Georgian as a language which fits extremely well into the model proposed by D&A. Cohesion, the fixed order of elements, and conventionalized coherence and meaning are reliable criteria for identifying g-words. Only one morphological process (circumfixing) seems problematic, with cases of circumfixes not surrounding all of the material within their semantic scope, and with a bracketing paradox in ordinal number formation. P-words can be identified as the domain of primary stress, with additional weak phonological evidence for the location of boundaries. Georgian also has a variety of clitics. Aside from these, the only mismatch between p-words and g- words noted by Ha is the case of the compounds which can be identified as one g-word because of the lack of case marking on the first element, but which bear two stresses.

    In his discussion of the word in Modern Greek, J questions the assumptions of D&A's model from chapter 1. J argues that word and affix are a sufficient inventory of morphological entities, the argument ultimately rests on Ockham's Razor. Having done away with clitics, J also questions the value of p-words as a unit of analysis: 'if [little elements] are inflectional affixes, then much of what might be called a 'phonological word' is simply created by regular word-formation and inflectional processes' (248-9). J discusses several types of evidence (nasal-induced voicing, irregularity, vowel insertion, and stress) and concludes in each case that a) the evidence does not support the cliticization analyses argued for by previous researchers, and b) that the evidence is at least not inconsistent with an analysis limited to words and affixes. In one case (nasal-induced voicing), J's examination of the data reveals a difference between two classes of 'little elements' (weak pronouns and possessive pronouns) which are formally identical and have therefore traditionally been taken together. In another case (vowel insertion), he shows that correct statement of the generalization provides confirmatory evidence of the affixal status of the weak pronouns. In this fashion, J certainly makes the case that adoption of an analysis which uses clitics may sometimes be an easy way out. However, he admits that stipulations are required in order to make the more rigorous approach work, and that both words and affixes must be assigned degrees of typicality to capture their varied behaviour. This is justified for J because a) the typicality scale is independently necessary, and ii) even when clitics are allowed as part of the system, stipulation is still necessary. Having reached this point, an interesting question is how this approach compares to that of A in chapter 2, and I return to this below.

    In chapter 6, Zeshan (Z) addresses the issue of whether there is a unit of organization in sign language (SL) which is equivalent to the word. She suggests that signers recognize the sign as a salient unit of language, and that equivalence between the sign and the word can usefully be assumed. Z argues that the concept of p-word can also be safely transferred, as signing has a temporal dimension. However, she notes that the characteristics relevant to identifying units in this organizational dimension of SLs have not yet been worked out. The criteria D&A suggest for the identification of g-words are of limited applicability to SLs, due to the nature of the languages. The elements of a sign are produced simultaneously, therefore they must be cohesive. But this property is due to the medium and cannot be taken as evidence for grammatical status. Simultaneity also rules out order as a criterion for g-words. However, D&A's third criterion, conventionalized meaning, does apply. Z suggests that the property of simultaneity minimizes the possibility of mismatches between the two levels of organization in SLs: 'the question of word boundaries hardly ever arises because each sign, simple or complex, is a self-contained unit'(161). This does not rule out compounding and cliticization, and Z presents evidence that both of these phenomena exist in SLs. More serious challenges to standard concepts of the word come from the properties of signs, according to Z. She discusses two problems which arise from the gestural medium. Firstly, the two hands can act independently making simultaneous signs (the signs are not truly simultaneous, as Z emphasizes, rather one hand holds a position while the other hand moves). How can we conceive of the relation between p- words and g-words in this case? Z suggests (and I agree) that the descriptive model used in the book is not adequate for this problem. The second issue Z raises is that of iconicity. She argues that a large part of the vocabulary of SLs is iconically motivated, that is, the sign contains at least some component whose meaning is iconic. Whilst phonaesthetic phenomena in spoken language can be treated as marginal (but see Klamer 2002 for a recent view), iconically motivated signs make up 50% of the vocabulary of some SLs and therefore must be seen as a central part of these languages. The sub-category of iconic signs which Z sees as most challenging to linguistic theory is the class of signs which are partly iconic, that is, there is a sublexical unit whose iconic motivation can be identified, but it cannot be analyzed as a morpheme. Families of such signs can be identified with meaningful elements in common but without morphological connections. Z suggests that such SL phenomena throw in doubt central concepts in linguistics, such as that of arbitrariness and double articulation, and also many views of morphemes and phonemes.

    The final chapter of the volume, by P.H. Matthews(M), is a summary and a revisiting of the main issues raised. M takes the Latin grammarians' view of the word as a starting point and argues that wordhood was not problematic in Latin, but that the extension of the ancient grammarians' views has been problematic. M then considers whether linguists should take word as a universal concept, or a concept with theoretical standing, and suggests that neither move is very useful. He also revisits the issue of clitics, questioning how much different linguists' use of the term have in common, and concluding that it is used whenever sentences cannot be divided into words and words into roots and affixes. M closes by querying whether Z's doubts in chapter 6 about dual articulation as a feature of language are as serious as she thinks, arguing that the difference in medium imposes different requirements, and might be expected to result in different levels of redundancy being necessary for effective communication.

    All the papers in this volume are valuable and interesting. The majority of them also present large quantities of fascinating data. On that basis, the book will amply reward any linguist who reads it. But, having said that, I want to express some reservations about the structure of the book and about what it does and does not contain.

    Firstly, the format of the volume clearly reflects its genesis. The papers were presented at a very focused workshop, with the first chapter serving as a guiding template for contributors. This has the virtue of making comparison across the datasets straightforward. But I don^'t think that it is accidental that the two most stimulating and challenging contributions (those of Zeshan and Joseph) are the two which do not take the first chapter as a road map. Taking a set of assumptions and seeing how far they are useful when confronted with varying data is a valuable exercise, but being made aware of where the assumptions fall short and where alternative assumptions might be more useful is even more valuable, and this element is not prominent in most of the book.

    Secondly, the title of the book (Word: a cross-linguistic typology) does not match the contents well to my mind. What the book contains is a framework which might be useful to construct a typology, and a large quantity of wonderful data that would assist in testing a typology. But the synthesizing overview that would justify the title is missing. What types of language can be established on the basis of the approach to words developed here? What factors correlate or interact, both at the level of the word and in its relation to the wider language system? These are the sort of questions to which I would hope to find answers in a book with this title, but I did not.

    Lastly, it is disappointing that the one issue on which (some) contributors differ strongly could not be presented more as an exchange of views. The opinions of Aikhenvald (and most of the other authors, I suspect) and Joseph are strongly opposed on the status of clitics. A was aware of J's contribution, but only mentions it very briefly in her chapter and without addressing J's epistemological arguments. As far as their view of the data is concerned, I think that the two have a good deal in common: both would agree that in between clear cases of words and clear cases of affixes there is a 'messy reality' (J), and they agree that it is possible to impose some scalar arrangement on that messy reality. But that still leaves the question of whether to segment the mess in two places or only in one, and the theoretical and methodological implications of this issue are important. J justifies his position with one methodological stance, and it would have strengthened the volume greatly if this challenge had been taken up by A or another contributor.

    The standard of editing of the volume is high, with only a few typological errors. There, is however, what I can only interpret as a slip of the keyboard on p31, where D&A give a surprising version of the hierarchy of phonological units.


    Breen, G. and R.Pensalfini (1999) Arrente: a language with no syllable onsets. Linguistic Inquiry 30:1-16

    Klamer, Marian (2002) Semantically motivated lexical patterns: A study of Dutch and Kambera expressives. Language 78:258-286


    Simon Musgrave is an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral fellow at Monash University. He works in the project Endangered Maluku Languages: Eastern Indonesia & the Dutch Diaspora. Besides Austronesian languages, his interests include language typology, constraint-based formalisms, language contact phenomena and data management practice for linguists.