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Universal typological dependencies should be detectable in the history of language families

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Levinson, S. C., Greenhill, S. J., Gray, R. D., & Dunn, M. (2011). Universal typological dependencies should be detectable in the history of language families. Linguistic Typology, 15, 509-534. doi:10.1515/LITY.2011.034.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0027-B716-E
1. Introduction We claim that making sense of the typological diversity of languages demands a historical/evolutionary approach.We are pleased that the target paper (Dunn et al. 2011a) has served to bring discussion of this claim into prominence, and are grateful that leading typologists have taken the time to respond (commentaries denoted by boldface). It is unfortunate though that a number of the commentaries in this issue of LT show significant misunderstandings of our paper. Donohue thinks we were out to show the stability of typological features, but that was not our target at all (although related methods can be used to do that: see, e.g., Greenhill et al. 2010a, Dediu 2011a). Plank seems to think we were arguing against universals of any type, but our target was in fact just the implicational universals of word order that have been the bread and butter of typology. He also seems to think we ignore diachrony, whereas in fact the method introduces diachrony centrally into typological reasoning, thereby potentially revolutionising typology (see Cysouw’s commentary). Levy & Daumé think we were testing for lineage-specificity, whereas that was in fact an outcome (the main finding) of our testing for correlated evolution. Dryer thinks we must account for the distribution of language types around the world, but that was not our aim: our aim was to test the causal connection between linguistic variables by taking the perspective of language evolution (diversification and change). Longobardi & Roberts seem to think we set out to extract family trees from syntactic features, but our goal was in fact to use trees based on lexical cognates and hang reconstructed syntactic states on each node of these trees, thereby reconstructing the processes of language change.