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Review of  Linguistics Today - Facing a Greater Challenge

Reviewer: Lorenzo Zanasi
Book Title: Linguistics Today - Facing a Greater Challenge
Book Author: Piet van Sterkenburg
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): Wirangu
Issue Number: 16.1760

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Date: Sun, 29 May 2005 17:05:27 +0200
From: Lorenzo Zanasi
Subject: Linguistics Today (Proceedings of the XVII International
Congress of Linguists)

EDITOR: Sterkenburg, Piet van
TITLE: Linguistics Today
SUBTITLE: Facing a greater challenge
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Lorenzo Zanasi, Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Paris.


Linguistic Today: Facing a Greater Challenge contains the
proceedings of the XVII International Congress of Linguists organized
by the Permanent International Committee of linguists (CIPL) in
Prague, July 24-29, 2003. The book contains the fifteen plenary
session lectures. A CD-ROM with the text of the entire conference
proceedings is included with the book; the papers are organized into
the following sections.
1) Language planning and language policies.
2) Pidgins, creoles, language in contact.
3) Historical linguistics.
4) Computational linguistics and Techniques for language description.
5) Language and fieldwork.
6) Syntax and Typology.
7) Lexicology and lexicography.
8) Phonetics and phonology.
9) Pragmatics.


Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, "Evidentiality: problems and challenges".
The term "evidentiality" expresses the degree of explication of
information source that any languages has for every proper
statement. Whether the speaker saw it, or heard it, or inferred it from
indirect evidence, or learnt it from someone else is codified and
expressed differently in languages. According to Aikhenvald "the term
appears to have first been introduced by Roman Jakobson (1957); he
described it as a verbal category which takes into account three
events: a narrated event, a speech, a narrated speech event".

The author describes how languages which have evidentiality as a
grammatical category vary in how many types of evidence they mark.
Some distinguish two terms (eyewitness and non-eyewitness) while
others six of more terms. The evidentiality markers can be various:
introductory clauses, affixes, clitics; it can be also expressed by
verbal tense or by grammatical category. Another section concerns
evidentiality and discourse showing how the way in which evidentials
are employed often correlates with narrative genres.

The paper conclude with some considerations for the future.
Evidential systems are particularly common in South and North
American Indian languages, in the languages of the Caucasus , and in
the Tibeto-Burman family. As of yet, there is not enough
comprehensive typological framework for the analysis of the varied
evidential systems. One of the major challenges will be the insertion of
evidential systems in a typologically informed theory.

2. Stephen R. Anderson, "Towards a less syntactic morphology and a
more morphological syntax". Anderson starts by affirming that the
similarities and differences between morphology and syntax are rather
different from the picture that is often assumed. Morphology is too
often "absorbed" by syntax, whereas it actually has some distinctive
characteristics. He continues by explaining what morphology is really
like and how it works.

Emmon Bach, "Linguistic universal and particulars", presents some
reflections about the activities and results of linguistics. The author
focuses the discussion on three meanings for "language" (extensional
languages, internal languages, real languages) in relation to three
kinds of language study (linguistic theory, linguistic description and
philology). He also discusses briefly the notion of linguistic universals
and particulars, exemplifying them through syntactic and
morphological categories.

In "Language planning and language policies", Ayo Bamgbose
explains very clearly the difference between language planning and
language policies. They are two sides of language treatment: "such
treatment forms a continuum, at one end of which is non rigorous
treatment, which is equivalent to language policy, and rigorous
treatment at the other end which is equivalent to language planning".
Then the author passes to describe characteristics of and motivation
for language policy (with reference at the African context) and
language planning models. Finally he discusses issues concerning the
identity of the actors and authorities in language planning.

There are two contributions in the area of computational linguistics
(CL). The first, "Computational lexicon and corpora", by Nicoletta
Calzolari, touches on some issues related to computational lexicon
and textual corpora, described as complementary components in
human language technology (HLT). The article discusses the major
European initiatives for building lexicons, some aspects of corpus
based lexicography, and static lexicon vs. dynamic means for
acquiring lexical information.

The second, "State of the art in computational linguistics", by Giacomo
Ferrari, provides a brief but precise historical description of the aims
of CL. He surveys the main trends of research in the areas of:
parsing, interaction models, morphology and dictionaries, and
corpora. Ferrari focuses his attention on the major application areas
that are currently being developed: spoken dialogue system,
multilingualism, document classification and retrieval. Finally the
contribution gives a brief account of the most popular research
objectives and methodologies: linguistic resources, new formalism and
new algorithms, acquisition and learning, text and dialogue studies.
Some suggestions for linguists close the paper. We should remember
that CL "is not an applicative domain, but a part of theoretical
linguistics in its own right [...] this is the reason why we should think of
integrating CL approach and stimuli into linguistics, rather than just
promoting co-operation between computational and theoretical

Lyle Campbell, "Historical linguistics", starts out by discussing the
perceptions of the current state of historical linguistics and the
progress in the reconstruction and classification of African and Asian
languages. Campbell passes to exam the branches of HL and their
results: language contact, sound and morphosyntactic change,
semantic change, typology. Then he focuses on linguistic prehistory
and methodologies to calculate genetic distance between languages:
those by Johanna Nichols and R. M. W. Dixon are considered. Finally
attention is given to the sociolinguistic studies of change, in particular
to the role of speakers' choices in linguistic change.

In "State of the art paper: lexicology and lexicography", Rufus H.
Gouws attempts to answer three questions: Where do we come from?
Where are we now? Where are we going? The emphasis is mainly on
the first question; the history of lexicography is read through its
relation with linguistics (in particular the autonomy of the former from
the latter) and traced trough the work of such scholars as Zgusta,
Wiegand, Bergenholtz and Tarp.

"Pragmatics" is the topic of Robert Harnish, who focuses on two
themes: speech acts and implicature. Both are described historically
through the programs of the leading scholars Austin, Searle and
Grice; the concepts of intentions, inference and reference are also
surveyed here.

Petr Sgall, "Types of languages and the simple pattern of the core of
language", starts from general concepts in typology (terms and notion,
difference between types based on classification and types based on
clusters of properties), passing through a detailed classification of
language types as based on the means of expression of grammatical
values. Finally Sgall explains how the pattern of the core of language
and its periphery works: "the core of languages with its relatively
simple structure is substantial for the child's acquisition of language;
the complex periphery can be mastered by children step by step, with
the specific, contextually restricted deviations and exceptions
internalized one after the other, on the basis of analogy".

"The future of creolistics", by Kees Versteegh, starts by considering
the origins of creolistics in a conference held in 1968. During the
conference, Dell Hymes listed four components that should be
integrated in the study of creolistics:
1) the universal tendencies to adapt speech and varieties of a
language by simplification in some circumstances, expansion in others;
2) the occurrence of these tendencies in situations of language
3) the conditions under which forms of speech so adapted and
influenced become and remain independent of the norm of any
contributing tradition;
4) the subsequent histories of languages so formed.

Versteegh then brings us up-to-date with the main topics and major
problems of the field. Finally the relation between creolistics and
general linguistics on one hand, and creolistics and contact linguistics
on the other, are investigated.

D. H. Whalen, "How the study of endangered languages will
revolutionize linguistics". points out that languages in danger of
disappearing are a very strong stimulus for increasing the
documentation and description in linguistics. Technology tools now
also permit us to create a set of standards in order to make clearer all
the elements of "the linguistic periodic table".

The volume is completed by three other contributions: a paper by
Harry van der Hulst, "A short history of generative phonology"; a
paper by Daniel L. Everett discussing methodologies in fieldwork
("Coherent fieldwork") exemplified through ethnogrammatical and
language loss studies. The third contribution, by Tasaku Tsunoda,
concerns an "Attempt at the revival of Warrungu" an Australian
language. Some issues of language revitalization are surveyed.


This volume presents a very large number of topics, suggestions,
programs and current developments; but its internal structure is
confused. We have to observe and complain aboutt the absence of
papers related to the language and mind debates (even if this matter
is announced on the book's cover) and to neurolinguistics.

The quality of contributions is uneven; the state of the art papers are
generally very well written and structured and I appreciated them for
their clarity (especially those by Ferrari, Campbell and Versteegh), the
first aspect that should concern any scholar. Others as Sgall's paper
are hard to follow because of the heavy terminology, or are too
schematic, as in the case of Bach's paper.


Lorenzo Zanasi: Ph.D. in Linguistics and Italian as L2 at the University
for Foreigners of Siena. Degree in philosophy of language at
University La Sapienza in Roma. Currently, he works as teacher of
Italian language in Paris at the Institute of Italian culture.