LINGUIST List 9.1692

Tue Dec 1 1998

Disc: Morphosyntax

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. Martin Haspelmath, Re: 9.1664, Disc: Morphosyntax

Message 1: Re: 9.1664, Disc: Morphosyntax

Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 12:01:52 +0000
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Re: 9.1664, Disc: Morphosyntax

Paul Llido writes:

"The terms, "nomen", "verbum", "adverbum", etc. definitely were a
legacy of latin grammarians. Their use in English as primitives needs
to be defined distributionally."

But if the criteria for defining nouns, verbs, etc. in English are
different from the criteria used for Latin, then how do we know that
English Nouns and Verbs have anything to do with Latin Nouns and Verbs
(I use capitalization to indicate language-particular categories)?
Obviously, the only answer is that they express similar notions. The
conclusion is that THERE ARE NO universal syntactic categories. What
is universal is the broad pragmatic functions and conceptual
distinctions expressed by language, as well as distributional patterns
expressed by implicational universals.

The same reasoning applies to all other morphosyntactic categories, as
has been argued persuasively by Bill Croft in recent work (see also
his 1991 book "Syntactic categories and grammatical relations", U of
Chiacgo Press).

Since all languages perform basically the same tasks, there are a lot
of similarities and many universals, but there are no universal
morphosyntactic features.

Martin Haspelmath

Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, 
Inselstr. 22 D-04103 Leipzig 
(Tel. (MPI) +49-341-9952 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616)
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