LINGUIST List 25.863

Thu Feb 20 2014

Review: Typology: Song (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 14-Nov-2013
From: Dorothea Hoffmann <">,>
Subject: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Jae Jung Song
TITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Handbooks
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Dorothea Hoffmann, University of Chicago

The ‘Handbook of Linguistic Typology’ is a comprehensive collection of 30
chapters organized in four parts. The contributors are internationally
established alongside some young scholars within the broad field of linguistic

Editor Jae Jung Song chooses not to include a synopsis of the handbook in his
introduction, but instead provides “a brief account of how linguistic
typologists’ research perspective has changed over the last five decades” (1).
He also comments on aims, intended audience, structure of the book, and some
topics not covered.

Part I, ‘Foundations: History, Theory and Method’, consists of six chapters.
Paolo Ramat discusses ‘The (Early) History of Linguistic Typology’ from its
beginnings in classical antiquity to modern typology emphasizing today’s focus
on morphosyntax. Chapter 2 ‘The Pioneers of Linguistic Typology: from
Gabelentz to Greenberg’ by Giorgio Graffi discusses the invaluable
contributions to the modern field by scholars in the 19th and 20th century. In
chapter 3, ‘Linguistic Typology and the Study of Language’, Michael Daniel
situates typology among other types of linguistic knowledge and critically
discusses assumptions and limitations of the approach. Edith A. Moravcsik
treats language universals as explanations for phenomena in individual
languages and in light of the need to find structural explanations for their
existence in the first place in ‘Explaining Language Universals’. A
methodological issue is the focus in chapter 5 by Leon Stassen, who discusses
‘The Problem of Cross-Linguistic Identification’. The last chapter by Dik
Bakker is concerned with ‘Language Sampling’, providing an in-depth discussion
of complications and probable solutions for deciding on what type of sample to
use in any given typological investigation and includes an appendix on
practical data collection and coding.

Part II, ‘Theoretical Dimensions of Linguistic Typology’, deals with
theoretical approaches within and beyond typology and again consists of six
chapters. Joan Bybee in ‘Markedness: Iconicity, Economy, and Frequency’
evaluates proposed explanations of markedness correlations including
references to diagrammatic iconicity, economy, and frequency of use. John
Haiman discusses ‘Competing Motivations’ of clarity and least effort proposing
a third distinct drive for Cambodian where symmetrical utterances appear to be
preferred. In the following chapter Johann van der Auwera and Volker Gast in
‘Categories and Prototypes’ critically examine prototype theory concluding
that some of its assumptions about internal category structures and family
resemblances are highly useful in many domains of grammar and lexicon as well
as linguistic conceptualization. Greville E. Corbett discusses ‘Implicational
Hierarchies’ as a key element of linguistic typology. In particular it is
argued that including the notion of monotonic increase, linear increase
without an intervening decrease, allows hierarchies to make strong claims
about linguistic constraints in human language. Chapter 11 by John A. Hawkins
on ‘Processing Efficiency and Complexity in Typological Patterns’ presents his
Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis which claims that “grammars ...
are conventionalizations of patterns and preferences that one observes in the
performance of languages with structural choices” (206). Following this, Sonia
Christofaro in ‘Language Universals and Linguistic Knowledge’ concludes that
“there is no distributional evidence for the idea that there are universal
components of grammatical representation” (248).

Typological research on various grammatical topics and areas is the focus of
part III’s twelve chapters under the label ‘Empirical Dimensions of Linguistic
Typology’. Jae Jung Song discusses the notion of ‘Word Order Typology’ in
chapter 13. He places particular emphasis on the notion of ‘basic word order’
and the possibilities of future research in this area with recent refinements
and developments in processing-based theories. Walter Bisang gives a
comprehensive overview of the typology of ‘Word Classes’ emphasizing the need
to combine “cognitive or semantic criteria with criteria of pragmatics or
discourse and with morphosyntactic expression formats” (301). After briefly
discussing prerequisites for the distinction of word classes, he evaluates a
number of linguistic approaches from Schachter (1985) to Croft (1990) and
concludes with a short analysis of some typologically distinct languages and
notes on adjectives and adverbs. In chapter 15, Beatrice Primus looks at
‘Case-Marking Typology’. She determines that typological research has shown
that cases are formally disparate elements where inflectional affixes
characterize the synthetic type and free forms the analytic type. She also
states that hierarchy-based constraints motivated the formulation of a Case
Hierarchy. Anna Siewierska in ‘Person Marking’ discusses the grammatical
category of person from a cross-linguistic perspective. She concentrates on
variation in morphophonological form and syntactic function. ‘Transitivity
Typology’ is the concern of Seppo Kittilä’s chapter examining different
semantic, formal, and pragmatic approaches to the topic. Leonid Kulikov looks
at ‘Voice Typology’ in chapter 18.

The most detailed chapter of the volume is Balthasar Bickel’s ‘Grammatical
Relations Typology’ (GR). He reviews “typological variables that define or
condition specific GRs” (401), surveys construction types, examines
interactions between GR definitions in different constructions, and discusses
issues of worldwide distributions (401). Ferdinand de Haan’s chapter is
concerned with the ‘Typology of Tense, Aspect, and Modality Systems’ providing
an overview of major areas of ongoing research and points of overlap.
Additionally, he addresses terminological issues which are “notoriously
confusing” (446). In chapter 21 Lindsay Whaley examines ‘Syntactic Typology’
“concerned with discovering cross-linguistics patterns in the formation of
particular” (465) phrasal, clausal, or sentential constructions. He
particularly stresses the inextricable connection between morphological and
syntactic properties of language as a major concern of modern typological
research. Dunstan Brown discusses ‘Morphological Typology’ by outlining the
traditional ‘holistic’ morphological typology followed by an examination of
pure morphology, inflectional classes, and mechanisms associated with
phenomena such as syncretism. In chapter 23 Nicholas Evans introduces
‘Semantic Typology’, “the systematic cross-linguistic study of how languages
express meaning by way of signs” (504). He points out that compared to other
typological disciplines semantic typology has had a low profile due to major
challenges associated with methodologies such as developing a universal
semantic map and semantic grid of an articulated ontology. He concludes: “to
convey meaning is arguably the most basic goal any human language must
achieve. At the same time, the ability of culture to shape many meaning
categories makes semantics the domain of language which may prove to be more
cross-linguistically variable than any other” (532). The last chapter of this
part is on the ‘Typology of Phonological Systems’ by Ian Maddieson. He
discusses variation in sound patterns across languages giving brief overviews
on issues of prosody, segmental phonology, and larger units such as syllables
and words.

Part IV, ‘Linguistic Typology in a Wider Context’, aims to situate “linguistic
typology in the context of other major pursuits in linguistics, ranging from
historical linguistics to second language acquisition” (6). It consists of six
chapters. Kenneth Shields in ‘Linguistic Typology and Historical Linguistics’
analyzes the growing role of linguistic typology within historical linguistics
as a means of assessing the plausibility of historical reconstructions, in the
reconstruction process itself, and to examine general principles of how
languages evolve. In chapter 26 Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm investigates the
interplay of ‘Linguistic Typology and Language Contact’. She focuses on
cross-linguistic research on contact-induced change and areal phenomena.
Melissa Bowerman examines the indirect relationship between ‘Linguistic
Typology and First Language Acquisition’. She pays particular attention to
“how cross-linguistically oriented language acquisition research has come to
share certain core attitudes and methodological preferences with the field of
linguistic typology” (592), showing major areas of investigation and key
findings. Chapter 28 by Fred R. Eckman looks at ‘Linguistic Typology and
Second Language Acquisition’ providing an overview of classical and resent
works on SLA with regards to constraints on human language identified by
typologists and assumed to constrain interlanguage grammars of L2 learners as
well. Patience Epps investigates the almost symbiotic endeavors of ‘Linguistic
Typology and Language Documentation’. She focuses first on the contributions
of documentary linguistics to typology with regards to shaping efforts to
define universals and explaining linguistic diversity, before turning to
typology’s role in informing the representation of a language within the
documentation process. The final chapter of the handbook is Maria Polinsky’s
‘Linguistic Typology and Formal Grammar’. She examines points of divergence as
well as dialogue between the two orientations. Most notably, she strives to
bridge the gap between the two by suggesting shifts in research strategies and

The handbook’s main aim is to provide a critical state-of-the-art overview of
linguistic typology. Bringing together a wide range of scholars and topics
yields a highly useful edition for theoretical linguists, fieldworkers, and
advanced students. Especially as a supplement to textbooks on linguistic
typology and sub-disciplines such as historical linguistics, language
acquisition and field linguistics, the handbook can be a highly valuable
resource. It will be an essential reference for anyone interested in
linguistic variation, language families, and typological frameworks in the
individual chapters as well as in the extensive bibliography, and useful
author, language, and subject index. A further major asset is that most
chapters not only paint a contemporary picture of the current state of
linguistics, but also map future theoretical, methodological, and empirical
directions. Finally, each chapter includes a short list of references for
further reading.

Particularly enlightening in part I is Dik Bakker’s chapter on language
sampling, providing an excellent discussion of a typologist’s need to make a
meaningful selection of languages. His concluding suggestions for meaningful
sampling strategies genetic as well as geographic dimensions are very helpful.

Especially compelling in Part II is Sonia Cristofaro’s chapter on universals
and linguistic knowledge as she provides a useful comparison of how
‘universals’ are treated by typologists and generative linguists. This
discussion presents a good introduction for students interested in both
approaches and methodologies.

In part III, Walter Bisang’s and Anna Siewierska’s chapters provide excellent
overviews and discussions of word class and person typology invaluable for
anybody interested in a comprehensive account of issues related to research in
these areas. Nicholas Evan’s chapter on semantic typology is a great synopsis
of the topic’s current state and the challenges that lie ahead. In general,
part III provides the most valuable collection of chapters for linguists
working on under-described languages as a means of establishing current
developments within typology and to help establish some of the range of
variation described to date. The same holds for the last part of the handbook
with excellent discussions of the language documentation and linguistic
typology by Patience Epps and the interface of typology and language contact
by Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm. Both chapters comprehensively point towards
meaningful relations between typological research and each sub-discipline
particularly placing emphasis on potential mutual benefits.

There is not much to be criticized in this book except for a few areas of
linguistic typology that have been left out. Song mentions the interface
between sociolinguistics and typology as well as quantitative analysis and
interpretation of linguistic diversity and preferences. Indeed, critically
discussing recent and growing typological online databases such as WALS (Dryer
& Haspelmath 2011) and APiCS (Michaelis et al. 2013), smaller ones like the
Universals Archive (Plank et al. 2000), or language-group specific ones
(Matras et al. n.s.) as additional sources of information on grammatical
descriptions from typologists would have made an excellent concluding chapter.
Additionally, the interface of research into language cognition and typology
as prominently carried out by researchers at the MPI of Psycholinguistics in
Nijmegen would have been another valuable addition.

All in all, this edited volume is an excellent compilation and will surely
find its way into the canon of literature on the linguistic typology as a
valuable resource and reference.

Croft, William. 1990. Typology and Universals Cambridge: Cambridge University

Dryer, Matthew & Martin Haspelmath. 2011. The World Atlas of Language
Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.

Matras, Yaron, Viktor Elsik, Christa Schubert, Christopher White, Charlotte
Jones & Ruth Hill. n.s. Romani Morpho-Syntax Database. Manchester: University
of Manchester.

Michaelis, Susanne Maria, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath & Magnus Huber.
2013. Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max
Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Plank, Frans, Thomas Mayer, Tatsiana Mayorava & Elena Filimonova. 2000. The
Universals Archive. Konstanz: Universität Konstanz.

Schachter, Paul. 1985. Parts of Speech Systems Language Typology and Syntactic
Description, ed. by T. Shopen, 3-61. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dorothea Hoffmann received her PhD from the University of Manchester, UK in
2012. Her dissertation, within a functionalist-typological linguistic
approach, focused on structural and conceptual components of motion event
expressions, paying particular attention to discourse usage in two Australian
indigenous languages, namely Jaminjung, and Kriol. She is now a postdoctoral
fellow at the University of Chicago on a language documentation project of
MalakMalak, an endangered language of the Daly River Area in Australia, funded
by the Endangered Language Documentation Program. Her research interests
include typology, language documentation, lexical semantics, language contact,
narrative structure, cognitive linguistics, Australian Indigenous languages
and culture, as well as discourse-based studies of space and motion.

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