Introduction to Typology: The Unity and Diversity of Language


Lindsay J. Whaley

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Basics of Language Typology

    Part II: Word Order Typology

    Part III: Morphological Typology

    Part IV: Encoding Relational and Semantic Properties of Nominals

    Part V: Verbal Categories

    Part VI: Complex Clauses

  • Dedication

    For Ida Mae Heemstra

    I tried not to split too many infinitives.


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    The idea for this book arose in 1990 when I was coteaching a course titled “Grammar II” at the University of North Dakota. That course was taught to a mixed class of undergraduate and graduate students and was designed to cover the basics of typology, the basics of discourse, and the basics of Relational Grammar, all in the span of 10 weeks. My responsibility lay in the typology portion of the course, for which I was allotted 17 course hours. Needless to say, the constraints on time raised a pedagogical dilemma of a familiar sort: What aspects of the field of typology should be covered and in what depth? Minimally, it seemed to me, a student who is learning about typology should be exposed to the basic goals of the discipline, issues of methodology that have been, and continue to be, debated, and those areas of language that historically have received the greatest amount of attention within typology—holistic typologies based on constituent order and on morphology. Of course, in the hands of a prolix academic, even a cursory introduction to this limited set of topics could easily fill an entire semester, let alone 17 classroom hours, but I felt that to restrict attention to just these subjects would be to fall far short of conveying what typology is all about. In the modern era, at least, typologists have been among the most progressive members of the linguistic community in their desire to explore seemingly exotic aspects of language to discover the linguistic patterns that might be lurking there. Part and parcel to this spirit of discovery has been a desire to present a vision of language that is fully representative of both the unity and the diversity of the world's languages. To capture these aspects of typology, I determined that the course would also need to introduce many of the kinds of constructions that one runs across in human languages, especially those that might exist outside the awareness of the average college student or beginning graduate student.

    The introduction to typology that I presented in North Dakota was embedded within a course that also presented a formal grammatical framework, so I felt it important to stress what typology has in common with the sort of syntactic theorizing that has come to dominate the linguistic world, particularly in the United States. I took this tack happily, for I have always found that typology has much to offer to formal grammatical frameworks and vice versa. Unfortunately, the relationship between formal theorists and typologists has been anything but symbiotic through the years.

    The problem then became finding a textbook that would reflect the aims of such a course. I discovered that there were none. This fact was certainly not due to a lack of excellent introductory literature on typology. There were, and there remain, three outstanding resources in print for use in a typology class: Comrie (1989), the Shopen (1985) three-volume series, and Croft (1990). The authors of these works have all skillfully detailed certain aspects of typology; none of them, however, cover the full range of topics that I desired to address. As a consequence, I wrote the initial draft of this book, which was used at North Dakota the following year. Still, anyone familiar with these (and other) works on language typology will immediately recognize that I have drawn generous amounts of material from them.

    Over the past several years, I have expanded the content of the book considerably so that it is appropriate for use in quarter- or semester-length classes. The end result is an introduction to grammar in a typological perspective that is aimed at undergraduate and beginning graduate students. In the first part, I orient the reader to the basic subject matter of typology: its basic aims, its history, its methods of analysis, and its core assumptions. Then, in Parts II and III, I examine some ways in which languages can be grouped into types in terms of their overall constituent order characteristics and the kinds of morphology that they employ. The final three parts focus on the comparison and classification of particular grammatical constructions rather than languages as wholes.

    Although I intend the book to have an overarching unity, I have written individual sections and chapters so that they are largely self-contained. My rationale in doing this was to leave the book in a form in which individual parts could be extracted from the whole or used in a different sequence than they appear in the book. To this end, I have also kept the chapters to a limited length. By doing so, I believe the book is versatile enough to be utilized in a number of different classroom settings and is highly accessible to those using it as a general reference to typology.

    With this same attention to ease of use, I have included several typographical and organizational aids in the chapters. In the first occurrence of key terms, they are placed in bold print and generally accompanied by a definition or description. Within each chapter, there is frequent use of section headers; this offers a convenient mechanism for instructors to refer to material in the book, and it assists students in locating material rapidly when reviewing for assignments or exams. Finally, each chapter concludes with a list of new terminology and concepts.

    As with any book, many people have contributed significantly to the final form of this textbook. Perhaps more than anyone, Stephen Levinsohn deserves credit for its strengths. I borrowed heavily from a set of notes that he had used in teaching a typology course at the University of North Dakota. He also “field tested” the first draft of the book and provided me with invaluable feedback. Bob Dooley is another Summer Institute of Linguistics linguist who generously contributed his time, data, and ideas to this book.

    I count myself as fortunate to have studied with some of the premier typologists and typologically sensitive grammarians in the United States: Joan Bybee, Matthew Dryer, Donna Gerdts, Len Talmy, and Bob Van Valin. Although they may not all be aware of it, their insights fill the pages that follow. In this regard, I should also mention my profound debt of gratitude to Bernard Comrie. The range of his knowledge about language has always amazed me. I cite his work often, not only because the standards of scholarship demand it but because his ideas have influenced me greatly. Martin Haspelmath kindly agreed to read a draft of the book, knowing full well that it was still sketchy in spots and incomplete in others. He caught many inconsistencies, oversights, and a few embarrassing errors. His labors have clearly led to a much better finished project. Finally, three anonymous reviewers provided extensive and helpful critiques on the material in this book. I have incorporated their suggestions where space limitations have allowed it.

    Alex Schwartz at Sage Publications has been a pleasure to work with. He has a knack for promoting his vision for linguistic work that is specifically created for classroom use.

    Closer to home, my colleagues at Dartmouth, Lenore Grenoble and Bill Scott, created time in their packed schedules to read the chapters that follow. Whether they were at airports, on trains, in the office, or at home, they somehow managed to peruse the sections of the book I passed on to them. They are consummate teachers, and their criticisms were crucial in improving the style, organization, and content of the book so that it was clearer and better suited to the needs of the reader. Caren Whaley deserves special recognition for her part in assisting in the preparation of the book. She took over even more family responsibilities than usual so that I could dedicate additional time to writing and revising. She also willingly read through the final drafts of the chapters, making substantial suggestions for how the discussion might be made clearer.

    Despite all the assistance granted to me by the individuals mentioned above, I am sure that the finished product still falls short of their full approval. They are in no way responsible for any remaining shortcomings.

    The World's Languages in Overview

    The bread and butter of typology is cross-linguistic comparison, so it should come as no surprise that this book contains information and data on a great many languages. No doubt, there will be some languages that are familiar, but probably far more that most readers have never encountered before. For this reason, I offer some basic facts about the languages of the world and the relationships among them. Readers who have had little or no exposure to language classification are encouraged to read this prefatory material. It may provide them with enough of a grounding in the topic to feel more comfortable with my continual reference to lesser-known languages.

    Perhaps one of the most common questions that linguists are asked is, how many languages are there? The answer is that no one really knows. This is partly due to the fact that some areas of the globe have not yet been surveyed in a systematic manner to determine the various dialects and languages that are spoken in them. An even bigger obstacle to answering the question about how many languages exist is that there is no consensus on when two varieties of speech are best analyzed as dialects of one another and when they should be taken as separate languages. From a linguistic standpoint, the choice of how to label two speech types has much to do with the degree of intelligibility between them. Thus, it seems patently obvious that the variety of English spoken in Manchester, New Hampshire, and that spoken in Manchester, England, are dialects of a single language. After all, a speaker of one of these dialects can understand nearly everything that the other one says. Likewise, everyone agrees that English and Japanese are not dialects of a single language, but rather two distinct languages, because the degree of mutual intelligibility between them is about zero. These cases are relatively straightforward, but what about those instances in which speakers grasp about 95% of the content of another speech variety? How about 80% or 70%? Where does one draw the line? Situations in which there is imperfect comprehension between members of two speech communities pose an intractable problem for any simple counting of the number of languages in the world.

    With these difficulties in mind, it is possible only to provide an estimate of roughly 4,000 to 6,000 languages that are currently in use. There is, of course, no way to know how many additional languages may have been spoken previously but have disappeared without leaving any trace.

    Because no individual, no matter how strong their expertise in linguistics, knows about each of these languages, it has become a common practice in Linguistics to provide a genetic identification of a language when it is being described for those who may not be familiar with it. The genetic identity of a language is the language family to which it belongs. A language family is a group of languages or dialects that have arisen from a common ancestor. For example, at some point in the distant past (prior to 1,000 BC), Danish, English, German, Gothic, and Swedish (as well as several others) were not distinct tongues, but rather formed a single language that is commonly referred to as Proto-Germanic. We do not possess any written material from Proto-Ger-manic. We know a great deal, however, about the sounds of the language and the rules of its grammar because historical linguists have meticulously developed a reconstruction of what the language would have been like. Over time, dialects of Proto-Germanic formed, just as they do with any language. These dialects became more and more differentiated until they were no longer mutually intelligible—that is, they became distinct languages.

    The evolution of languages from a shared ancestor is commonly depicted by a family tree. Figure A, for instance, is a family tree for Germanic languages.

    Figure A. The Germanic Languages

    The family tree in Figure A captures the genetic affinity between all the languages that are listed by having them all ultimately branch from the node labeled “Germanic.” The tree also reflects that certain members of the Germanic family are more closely related than others through subgroupings, called branches, such as West Germanic, East Germanic, and North Germanic.

    The entire Germanic family is itself nested in a larger family named Indo-European, which includes branches such as Italic (French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.), Balto-Slavic (Russian, Polish, etc.), and Indic (Hindi, Bengali, etc.) as well as many others. Consequently, one can classify English as West Germanic, Germanic, or Indo-European. All are accurate labels; they simply reflect different degrees of association.

    When languages are introduced in this book, I will use labels of genetic relatedness that are roughly equivalent to the level of Germanic. These groupings are largely, although not completely, uncontroversial and can be established quite easily using the conventional tools of historical linguistics. They reflect a time depth (the point at which languages start branching off from the common ancestor) of about 2,500 to 4,000 years. Where my sources for language data did not provide sufficient information to determine an appropriate label of family membership, I relied on Ruhlen (1987).

    In addition to furnishing the genetic affilation of a language, I also give the geographic area with which the language is most commonly associated—for example, French (Italic: France). For languages that are no longer spoken, the genetic affiliation is furnished, but there is no geographic data. The identificational information is only provided the first time a language is discussed in a chapter. I have also only included it in cases in which some linguistic feature of the language is exemplified or discussed.

    I end this brief overview with a list of the languages that appear in the book. To provide a sense for how the various language families cluster together into larger groups, I have organized this list by language phyla (also called macrofamilies). Some of these phyla are generally accepted (e.g., Indo-European), whereas others are highly controversial (e.g., Altaic and Amerind). The phyla names are in all capital letters, the family names are in italics, and individual language names are in regular type.

      • Albanian:
        • Albanian
      • Armenian:
        • Armenian
      • Balto-Slavic:
        • Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Rumanian, Russian, Serbian
      • Celtic:
        • Welsh
      • Germanic:
        • Danish, German, Swedish
      • Hellenic:
        • Greek
      • Indo-Iranian:
        • Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi
      • Italic:
        • French, Latin, Spanish
    • URALIC
      • Finno-Ugric:
        • Finnish, Hungarian, Komi
      • Niger-Congo:
        • Akan, Awutu, Bambara, Bamileke, Beembe, Dewoin, Ewe, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, KiVunjo-Chaga, Lobala, Mende, Sesotho, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba
      • Nilotic:
        • Maasai
      • Saharan:
        • Kanuri
      • Nama
      • Chadic:
        • Hausa, Ngizim
      • Cushitic:
        • Somali
      • Semitic:
        • Akkadian, Arabic, Hebrew, Tigre, Tigrinya
      • South:
        • Georgian
      • Northwest:
        • Abaza, Abkhaz
      • Northeast:
        • Avar, Tabassaran
    • ALTAIC
      • Japanese-Ryukyuan:
        • Japanese
      • Korean:
        • Korean
      • Manchu-Tungusic:
        • Even, Evenki, Oroqen
      • Mongolian:
        • Mongolian
      • Turkic:
        • Turkish
      • Aleut:
        • Aleut
      • Eskimo:
        • Greenlandic Eskimo, Iupiaq
      • Dravidian:
        • Malayalam, Tamil, Telegu
      • Sinitic:
        • Mandarin Chinese
      • Tibeto-Burman:
        • Burmese, Gurung, Lisu, Manipuri, Tamang, Tangut
      • Miao-Yao:
        • Yao
      • Mon-Khmer:
        • Khmer
      • Munda:
        • Mundari
      • Daic:
        • Thai, Yay
      • Austronesian:
        • Achenese, Agutaynen, Chamorro, Enga, Fijian, Futunu-Aniwa, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Malagasy, Paamese, Palauan, Tagalog
      • New Guinea:
        • Barai, Daga, Dani, Kobon, Taoripi
      • Burarran:
        • Burera
      • Kalkatungic:
        • Kalkatungu
      • Karnic:
        • Diyari
      • Pama-Nyungen:
        • Dyirbal, Mparntwe Arrernte, Wangkumara, Warlpiri, Yidiny
    • NA-DENE
      • Athabaskan:
        • Navaho
      • Tlingit:
        • Tlingit
      • Almosan-Keresiouan:
        • Blackfoot, Cayuga, Halkomalem, Kutenai, Lakhota, Nootka, Oneida
      • Carib:
        • Carib, Hixkaryana, Makusi
      • Chibchan:
        • Guaymi
      • Equatorial-Tucanoan:
        • Bare, Guarani, Inga, Kaiowa-Guarani, Quechua, Tuyuca, Urubú, Yagua
      • Ge-Pano:
        • Cashibo
      • Hokan:
        • Atsugewi, Eastern Pomo, Mohave, Seri, Yuma
      • Oto-Manguean:
        • Isthmus Zapotec, Otomi, Mixtec
      • Penutian:
        • Choctaw, K'ekchi, Miwok, Mixe, Sierra Popoluca, Tepehua, Yokuts
      • Tanoan:
        • Southern Tiwa
      • Uto-Aztecan:
        • Comanche, Hopi, Kawaiisu, Michoacan Nahuatl, ‘O'odham, Shoshone
      • Burushaski
        • Illyrian (unclassified)
      • Melanesian Pidgin, Papiamentu


    1First person
    1DFirst-person dual
    1PFirst-person plural
    1SFirst-person singular
    2Second person
    2DSecond-person dual
    2PSecond-person plural
    2SSecond-person singular
    3Third person
    3PThird-person plural
    3SThird-person singular
    C1, C2Noun Class 1, Class 2, and so on
    CMCase marker
    DODirect object
    DPSTDistant past
    DSDifferent subject
    MODModalis case
    OHObject higher
    PNounProper noun
    QUESQuestion word
    RELRelativizer/relative pronoun
    S-O REVSubject-object reversal
    SSSame subject
    TMTense marker
  • Glossary

    • Absolute Tense. Temporal reference established on the basis of the tense marking within a single clause—for example, “Rupert coughed” is an instance of absolute tense because the past time reference can be determined without reference to any tense marking that occurs outside the clause. Absolute tense contrasts with relative tense.
    • Absolute Universal. A property of linguistic structure that is not counterexemplified in any language.
    • Absolutive. A grammatical relation that subsumes S and P, where S is equivalent to the subject of an intransitive clause, and P is equivalent to the direct object of a transitive clause.
    • Accomplishment. A type of predicate that is characterized by causative semantics—for example, bury (“cause to be buried”) and kill (“cause to die”).
    • Accusative-Focus. A case system in which P, the sole verbal argument in an intransitive clause, is treated distinctly from the two arguments of a transitive clause.
    • Achievement. A type of predicate that indicates a change of state or dynamic circumstances such as die or learn.
    • Activity. A type of predicate that indicates a dynamic event in which there is no change of state such as sing and run.
    • Adverbial Clause. A subordinate clause which provides a situational context for the event or state that is described in a main clause. An adverbial clause is dependent on a main clause, but it is not embedded within it.
    • Affixal Language. A language that permits a series of morphemes to be affixed to a lexical head (i.e., a verb, noun, or adjective). Affixal languages (also called synthetic languages) contrast with isolating languages.
    • Agent. A semantic role for an entity that is instigating an action. Smokey is the agent in the sentence “Smokey lit the fire.”
    • Agglutinative Language. A language in which strings of morphemes occurring within a word are easily segmentable. Agglutinative languages contrast with fusional languages.
    • Agreement. A morphological relationship between two or more constituents in which the syntactically dependent constituents are placed in a form that corresponds to that of the head.
    • Aktionsart. An inherent or lexical aspect of verbs. See also achievement, activity, accomplishment, and state.
    • Anterior. An aspect that signifies a past event with present relevance. It is also referred to as “perfect.” Because of the deictic nature of anterior aspect, many linguists treat it as a tense instead.
    • Anticausative. A valence-decreasing device which detransitivizes a transitive verb that has causal semantics.
    • Antipassive. A valence-decreasing device which demotes the object of a transitive verb, thereby detransitivizing it.
    • Apodosis. The “then clause” of an “If … then …” conditional sentence. The “if clause” is referred to as the protasis.
    • Applicative. A valence-increasing device that encodes an oblique nominal as an object of the verb. The resultant construction is often referred to as an applied construction.
    • Applied Constructions. See applicative.
    • Arguments. Elements that play a central role in the proposition laid forth by a verb. In the sentence, “Heather lost the money,” the nominals Heather and the money are both arguments because the verb lose requires expression of both an entity that does the losing and an entity that is being lost.
    • Aspect. A grammatical category used to depict the internal temporal structure of a situation.
    • Atelic. A term used to describe the aspect of events that have no inherent end point—for example, read and swim. Atelic contrasts with telic.
    • Bound Morpheme. A morpheme that cannot stand alone but rather must co-occur within a word with another morpheme.
    • Case. Morphological marking that establishes the grammatical relation and or semantic role that a nominal bears to the clause in which it occurs.
    • Causative Construction. A linguistic device by which the relationship between two events is explicitly captured within a single clause. For example, “The professor made her students cry” is a causative construction involving (a) the students' crying and (b) the professor's acting to bring about the crying. Causative constructions differ in whether they depict “direct causation” (situations in which the actions of the causer have immediate impact on the actions of the causee) or “indirect causation.”
    • Circumfixes. Morphemes consisting of two or more parts that are separated by intervening material (affixes or roots).
    • Clause Reduction. See ellipsis.
    • Closed Class. A lexical class in which membership is basically fixed. In English, for instance, prepositions are a closed class because novel prepositions cannot be created except in extremely limited circumstances. Closed class contrasts with open class.
    • Complement Clause. A clause that functions as an argument of the clause in which it is embedded.
    • Complementizer. A formal element that marks the subordinate relationship that a complement clause holds to a main clause.
    • Completive. An aspectual notion used to describe an event that has a clear terminal point—for example, shatter or explode.
    • Complex Implicational Universal. See implicational universal.
    • Concessive Clause. A subordinate clause that reflects contrast of some kind with the main clause. For example, the adverbial clause in “Although Blake is five years old, he can drive a car” is a concessive clause.
    • Conjunction. A formal item or process that functions to coordinate like constituents.
    • Content Interrogative. A question that requests a particular piece of information rather than the truth value of a proposition. Content interrogatives employ question words (such as who, how, and why) to elicit information—for example, “Who won the Kentucky Derby?” Content interrogatives contrast with polar interrogatives.
    • Continuous Aspect. See imperfective.
    • Coordination. The creation of a structure that combines two or more clauses (or other elements), neither of which is embedded in or dependent on the other.
    • Correlative Conjunction. A coordination strategy that involves two (or more) conjunctive elements operating together—for example, neither … nor or both … and.
    • Cosubordination. The combination of two formal elements that creates a dependency relationship between them but with neither element dependent on the other. Serial verb structures often exemplify cosubordination.
    • Dative Shift. A realignment of the grammatical relations of a ditransitive verb without altering its valency. Dative shift has occurred in the sentence “Christine sent her husband a box of chocolates,” in which both postverbal nominals appear to be direct objects. In the corresponding sentence, “Christine sent a box of chocolates to her husband,” the distinct grammatical relationship of her husband is indicated by the preposition to.
    • Declarative Sentence. A sentence that expresses a statement. Because the verbs of declarative sentences often have a distinct form from those in other sentence types (such as imperatives), declarative is also considered a mood.
    • Definiteness. A semantic property of nominals that indicates reference to a specific identifiable entity.
    • Deixis. The anchoring of a sentence to its immediate context. Deictic words, such as here, now, and he, do not have a set reference but vary in meaning depending on the context in which they arise.
    • Deontic Modality. That realm of meaning concerned with obligation and permission. Deontic modality contrasts with epistemic modality. Deontic modality is often signaled through mood affixes or modal auxiliaries.
    • Dependent. An intuitive term used in linguistic analysis to identify those elements in a construction that are licensed by a head or modify a head.
    • Dependent Marking. The morphological marking of a head-dependent relationship in which the marking occurs on the dependent element. Dependent marking contrasts with head marking. See also double marking and split marking.
    • Derivational Morpheme. A bound morpheme that alters the lexical class of the stem to which it attaches or otherwise modifies the semantics of the stem in a significant manner. For example, -al can be suffixed to a noun to derive a verb as in nation-national. Derivational morphology contrasts with inflectional morphology.
    • Diachronic. Looking at how language changes over the course of time. Diachronic contrasts with synchronic.
    • Discontinuous Constituents. Elements of the same phrase that do not appear adjacent to each other because material from a different phrase (or phrases) intervenes. In the sentence, “I met a guy yesterday at school who said he had never been to the library,” the noun guy and the relative clause who said he had never been to the library are discontinuous constituents. Intuitively, they are both members of the same noun phrase, but they are separated by yesterday at school.
    • Ditransitive. A clause in which the verb has both an indirect object and a direct object.
    • Double Marking. The morphological marking of a head-dependent relationship in which the marking occurs on both the dependent element and the head element. See also dependent marking and split marking.
    • Dummy Subject. A pronominal subject that has no actual reference, such as It in “It is raining.”
    • Durative. An aspectual notion used to describe events that continue for a certain period of time—for example, the verb to sail necessarily refers to an event that is extended in time. It cannot occur instantaneously. Durative contrasts with punctual.
    • Ellipsis. The omission of part of a structure that is recoverable from the context. Ellipsis is often employed in the coordination of clauses. In the sentence, “I like to wash and Mary likes to break dishes,” the direct object of the verb wash has undergone ellipsis.
    • Epistemic Modality. That realm of meaning concerned with the degrees of possibility that a proposition is true or false. Epistemic modality contrasts with deontic modality. It is often marked in language with mood affixes or with modal auxiliaries.
    • Ergative. A grammatical relation that subsumes A, where A is equivalent to the subject of a transitive clause. The term is also used for case markers that mark A. Ergative contrasts with nominative.
    • Ergative-Absolutive. A case system in which S and P are marked in the same way, but differently from A, where S is the sole argument of an intransitive predicate, A is equivalent to the subject of a transitive predicate, and P is equivalent to the object of a transitive predicate.
    • Evidentials. A set of verbal markers that convey the quality of information on which an assertion is based.
    • External Explanation. An explanation of linguistic structure that draws on considerations outside the language system.
    • Free Morpheme. A morpheme that is not phonologically dependent on any other morpheme. Free morphemes contrast with bound morphemes.
    • Fusional Language. A language in which the boundaries between morphemes are hard to determine. A fusional language contrasts with an agglutinative language.
    • Gender. A semantic property of a nominal used to indicate the real-world gender of its referent. The term gender can also be used more broadly to refer to a nominal class that has little or nothing to do with the actual gender of its referent.
    • Genus. Very roughly, a language family in which the genetic affiliations between members can be fairly loose. The plural is “genera.”
    • Government. A syntactic relationship between two constituents in which one constituent (the head) determines the morphological marking that occurs on the second (the dependent). The marking does not encode any semantic information about the head.
    • Grammatical Relation. The morphosyntactically signaled function a constituent plays in the grammar of a clause.
    • Grammaticalization. A process of language change by which a free lexical morpheme becomes semantically generalized and phonologically reduced.
    • Head. An intuitive notion in linguistic analysis used to describe the central element in a construction. The head is usually an obligatory element.
    • Head Marking. The morphological marking of a head-dependent relationship in which the marking occurs on the head element. Head marking contrasts with dependent marking.
    • Headless Relative Clause. A relative clause that does not appear to modify any noun.
    • Heavy Constituent Principle. The functional principle that heavy constituents (those that contain a large number of grammatical elements) tend to be placed after the head that they modify.
    • Highly Informative. A textual entity that bears a significant amount of semantic content relative to other entities in the surrounding discourse context. Highly informative elements tend to be placed toward the beginning of the clauses in which they occur.
    • Holistic Typology. The classification of languages as wholes on the basis of a significant linguistic feature (or features).
    • Imperative Sentence. A sentence that expresses a command. Because the verbs of imperative sentences often have a distinct form from those in other sentence types (such as declaratives), imperative is also considered a mood.
    • Imperfective. An aspectual category that is employed to make reference to the internal structure of an event. Imperfective contrasts with perfective. Imperfective aspect is also commonly referred to as continuous or progressive, although there have been recent attempts to distinguish between these three labels.
    • Implicational Universal. A universal that relates two properties of language by using one property as a precondition for the other. Such universals can be put in the form “if X, then Y.” More than one precondition can be used (If X, then if Y, then Z), in which case the statement is called a complex implicational universal.
    • In Situ. A term used to refer to the location of question words that do not move to the front of the sentence but remain in their “normal” structural position—for example, the word what in the question “John put his signature on what?” remains in situ.
    • Inceptive. An aspectual notion used to highlight the beginning of an event.
    • Independent Language Sample. A sample which contains languages that bear only very distant or no genetic relationship and are not from the same geographic region.
    • Index of Fusion. A measure of the ease with which individual morphemes can be segmented from others in a language.
    • Index of Synthesis. A measure for the amount of affixation that occurs in an individual language.
    • Indicative Sentence. A sentence that asserts the truth of some proposition. Traditionally, the term indicative has been used to capture the similarity of interrogative and declarative sentences so that they can be set off against other sentence types, such as imperatives. Because the verbs of indicative sentences often have a distinct form from those in other sentence types (such as imperatives), indicative is also considered a mood.
    • Indirect Speech Act. A sentence which is used in a manner that does not directly follow from its form. For instance, when one frames a sentence in the form of a question (such as “Can you take out the garbage?”) to modify the behavior of an interlocutor and not to elicit information, one has just engaged in an indirect speech act.
    • Infix. A morpheme that is affixed by placing it entirely within a root.
    • Inflectional Language. A language that permits a great deal of affixation but without a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and the semantic information being indicated. Generally, the term inflectional language is used in the same way as fusional language.
    • Inflectional Morpheme. Affixes that indicate grammatical relationships. Inflectional morphology contrasts with derivational morphology.
    • Internal Explanation. An explanation of universals based on properties of language systems themselves.
    • Interrogative Sentence. A sentence that is designed to elicit information. Interrogative is also considered a mood in some cases. In English, interrogatives are marked by inversion—the rearrangement of auxiliary verbs and subjects. For example, “Does everyone know what time it is?” has the auxiliary does placed before the subject. This order is a departure from what one finds in other sentence types.
    • Intransitive. A clause in which the verb does not have a direct object.
    • Inversion. See interrogative.
    • Irrealis. A term used to depict situations that are not or not yet a reality, only possibilities.
    • Isolating Language. A language that does not generally combine more than one morpheme into a word.
    • Iterative. An aspectual term that refers to an event that takes place repeatedly—for example, “I was coughing all night” (the act of coughing occurs repeatedly).
    • Juxtaposition. A strategy for coordination of clauses that consists of simply placing the clauses in sequence.
    • Left-Branching Structure. A consituent in which a structurally complex element occurs to the left of a noncomplex element. For example, the construction “my friend's parents” is left branching because the unit my friend's, which has internal structure, is to the left of parents. Right-branching represents the opposite scenario—the structurally more complex unit appears to the right of the less complex unit—for example, “Parents of my friend” is right branching because the unit with internal structure, of my friend, is to the right of parents.
    • Lexical Aspect. See Aktionsart.
    • Lexical Class. A category of words, such as nouns or verbs, that share certain semantic, morphological, or syntactic properties, or all three. Lexical classes are also called parts of speech.
    • Lexical Semantics. The meaning of words and units smaller than words.
    • Linguistic Areas. Regions where languages share linguistic features due to sustained contact for long periods of time.
    • Marked. A comparative term that indicates the unit that bears greater formal substance. For example, in the pair cat-cats the plural is the marked element because it has an extra morpheme. Conversely, cat is unmarked. These terms are also utilized more broadly to refer to a default structure (unmarked) versus a structure that appears in limited circumstances (marked). In this broader sense, markedness is often based on pragmatic considerations.
    • Matrix Clause. A main clause. Matrix clauses contrast with embedded clauses.
    • Modality. The semantic realm concerned with attitudes toward events—that is, their necessity, likelihood, actuality, and so on. See also mood.
    • Mood. A grammatical category that expresses speakers' assertions about propositions—for example, whether the propositions can, do, or should occur. Mood is usually indicated by affixes or modal auxiliaries. Typical inflectional categories of mood are optative and subjunctive.
    • Morpheme. The minimal unit bearing meaning in language.
    • Negative. A grammatical category employed to deny the actuality of a proposition or some portion thereof.
    • Neutral System. A case system in which there is no morphosyntactic differentiation between S, A, and P, where S is the sole argument of an intransitive clause, A is equivalent to the subject of a transitive clause, and P is equivalent to an object of a transitive clause.
    • No Structure Language. Languages in which very little, if any, affixation is used. The term no structure language is equivalent to isolating language.
    • Nominal. A term used for a category that contains nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases.
    • Nominalization. The transformation of a stem into a nominal from some other lexical class.
    • Nominative-Accusative. A case system in which S and A are encoded the same way, where S is the single argument of an intransitive clause and A is equivalent to the subject of a transitive clause.
    • Nonabsolute Universal. A property of languages that usually holds true and, therefore, represents a significant tendency for languages generally.
    • Nonrestrictive Relative Clause. See restrictive relative clause.
    • Noun Classifier. A morpheme that functions to indicate the semantic class of a noun.
    • Noun Incorporation. The affixation of a noun root to a verbal stem.
    • Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy. A proposal that there is an implicational relationship among grammatical relations in terms of whether they can be relativized or not. The implicational relationship is set up as a hierarchy: subject < direct object < indirect object < oblique.
    • Open Class. A lexical class in which membership is in principle unlimited. Nouns and verbs are probably open classes in all languages.
    • Optative. A mood category that is typically used to express desires and hopes.
    • Parameters. The principled differences that exist among languages.
    • Part of Speech. See lexical class.
    • Partial Typology. Classification of specific features of languages rather than languages as wholes.
    • Patient. A semantic role that indicates the entity being directly affected by the action of the verb.
    • Perfect. See anterior.
    • Perfective. An aspectual category that is employed to express an event as a bounded point in time. Perfective contrasts with imperfective.
    • Periphrastic Construction. A construction in which multiple verb forms are used to express what can commonly be expressed by a single verb in conjunction with affixes.
    • Pied-Piping. The phenomenon in which adpositions are fronted together with a question word in interrogative sentences and relative clauses. For example, pied-piping occurs in “To whom did you speak?” The construction contrasts with preposition stranding, which leaves the preposition in situ: “Whom did you speak to?”
    • Polar Interrogative. A question that is framed such that the minimally expected answer is “yes” or “no.” As such, polar interrogatives do not involve question words. Polar interrogatives contrast with content interrogatives.
    • Portmanteau Morpheme. A single formal unit that signals two (or more) distinct semantic categories.
    • Pragmatically Marked. See marked.
    • Predication. A semantic function that involves describing the behavior or properties of objects. Verbs are generally thought to be involved in predication as are adjectives.
    • Prefix. A bound morpheme that is affixed to the front of a root.
    • Preposition Stranding. See pied-piping.
    • Pro-Drop. Dropping the pronominal subject of a language because the information can be determined by agreement morphology on the verb.
    • Progressive. See imperfective.
    • Prohibitive. A negative command—for example, “Don't take candy from a baby!”
    • Prosody. A phonological term that refers to pitch and intonation.
    • Protasis. See apodosis.
    • Prototype. An ideal example of a category.
    • Punctual. An aspectual term used to describe an event that happens instantaneously rather than being extended in time: blink, snap, and so on.
    • Purposive. A semantic role which describes the element that provides the reason why an event occurs.
    • Real Condition. A condition that could potentially be fulfilled—“If Bill sees you tomorrow …”
    • Realis. A term used to depict situations that a speaker judges to be or to have been actual events.
    • Reduplication. A type of morphological marking in which the form of the affix is determined by repetition of part or all of the root.
    • Reference. The semantic function of naming objects in the real world.
    • Relative Clause. A clause that modifies a noun, much in the same way that an adjective does. For example, “the woman whom I love.
    • Relative Tense. Temporal reference of a clause established on the basis of tense marking that occurs outside of the clause. For example, the participle running is not directly marked for tense, but when it occurs as part of an adverbial expression, “Running down the street, we saw several drug dealers,” it is immediately recognized that the running took place in the past. We know this because the main verb is in past tense.
    • Relativizer. A formal element that serves to signal the dependency of a relative clause. The word that can be used as a relativizer in English, as in “the hamburger that Ronald ate.”
    • Restrictive Relative Clause. A relative clause that serves to restrict the possible reference of the noun it modifies—for example, with respect to the noun phrase the man, there is a massive number of people in the world that the noun man might refer to. The addition of a relative clause (“the man who is from Arkansas”) narrows these possibilities significantly. Hence, it is restrictive. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are those that provide supplementary information about a nominal but do not narrow the potential reference, as in “President Clinton, who is from Arkansas.”
    • Right-Branching Structure. See left-branching structure.
    • Root. The core element of a word. It carries the heaviest semantic load and places restrictions on what kinds of morphemes, if any, may be affixed to it.
    • Sample. The set of languages used for a particular research project.
    • Scope. A term that indicates the part of a sentence affected by the meaning of a particular form, such as a negative.
    • Semantic Role. The semantic relationship that a nominal bears to the rest of the clause. Common semantic roles include agent, patient, locative, and benefactive.
    • Serial Verb Construction. Multiple finite verbs that are used in sequence and are not conjoined.
    • Sociocentric Orientation. The notion that speakers and writers tend to place most importance on themselves and those listening to them.
    • Speech Act. An act of communication defined in terms of the functions its speaker intends for it.
    • Split Ergativity. A morphosyntactic system that operates either on a nominative-accusative basis or an ergative-absolutive basis. The split between the two systems can occur across components in the grammar (e.g., pronouns being treated in one way and nouns in another), on the basis of tense, or in other ways.
    • Split Intransitivity. A morphosyntactic system that encodes the single argument of an intransitive clause either as a subject or as an absolutive depending on the verb that heads the clause.
    • Split Marking. A language that contains roughly equal numbers of dependent-marking and head-marking constructions.
    • Sprachbund. A geographic area in which languages from different language families share a linguistic feature (or features) that is not found in all of the language families represented.
    • State. A type of predicate that denotes properties or nondynamic circumstances—for example, be sad, perceive, and so on.
    • Stative. An aspectual term used to describe states of existence or mental processes.
    • Subjunctive. A mood category used to express an attitude of uncertainty on the part of the speaker or a hypothetical situation.
    • Subordinating Conjunctions. An overt marker that signals the subordinate status of adverbial clauses or phrases.
    • Subordination. The combination of units such that one is dependent on the other.
    • Suffix. A bound morpheme that is affixed to the end of a root.
    • Suppletion. A morphological term used to describe a situation in which two morphemes have obvious semantic affinity but no formal connection—for example, go-went.
    • Suprafix. The use of suprasegmental elements, such as tone or stress, to manipulate the meaning of a root. For example, cónvict is a noun, but with stress on the second syllable (convíct) it is a verb.
    • Switch Reference. A system of clause combining that includes an indication of whether the clauses share the same subject or whether there has been a switch in subject from one clause to the next.
    • Synchronic. Looking at a language at a single stage in its development. Synchronic contrasts with diachronic.
    • Synthetic Language. A language in which there is abundant use of affixation. Synthetic languages contrast with isolating languages.
    • Tag Question. A specialized form of a question that is added to the end of a statement and that typically involves an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. For example, “Sally Ride was a great astronaut, wasn't she?” A tag question generally presupposes the answer.
    • Telic. A term used to describe the aspect of events that have an inherent end point—for example, cough, snap, and so on. Telic contrasts with atelic.
    • Temporal. A semantic role describing nominals that establish when an event occurred.
    • Tense. A grammatical category which is used to express the temporal relationship that a proposition has to the moment of speech or some other time.
    • Time Stability. A proposal that concepts tend to be lexicalized according to their likelihood to persist through time. Temporally stable concepts (mountain) are lexicalized as nouns, whereas temporally unstable concepts (weep) are lexicalized as verbs.
    • Transitive. A clause in which the verb has a direct object.
    • Tripartite. A morphosyntactic system in which S, A, and P all receive unique treatment, where S is the sole argument of an intransitive verb, A is equivalent to the subject of a transitive verb, and P is equivalent to the object of a transitive verb. See also nominative-accusative and ergative-absolutive.
    • Unmarked. See marked.
    • Unreal Condition. A condition that cannot be fulfilled. It is either hypothetical or counterfactual—for example, the “if clause” in “If I were the President, I would declare it National Typology Week.”
    • Yes-No Questions. See polar interrogatives.


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    About the Author

    Lindsay Whaley earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He currently holds a joint appointment in classics and linguistics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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