Author Topic: What are nec and sufficient conditions for you to agree that a lang lacked adjs?  (Read 31757 times)

Offline zaba

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In any case, if you have phrases like "the blue book", the fact that you might also have a phrase "the blues" doesn't actually suggest that "blue" was covertly a noun all along. That's where I'm losing you I think. If this language doesn't have adjectives, and consequently if "blue" in "the blue book" isn't an adjective, what is it?

Well, there are adjectives in the sense that if a NP is comprised of N+N, it is always the first N that is the modifier or adjective -- but I think this is syntactic and contextual, not by virtue of lexical categories.

So any "adjective" can be a head, can take any nominal morphology, and can do anything a noun can do.
Apparently, however, this is a weak argument.

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To argue that there aren't actually lexical adjectives, on the other hand, requires quite a bit more information. Specifically, you want to analyze the distributional criteria of semantic "things" and "properties". I suspect you'll find some restrictions, though it's possible you won't.

Can you give me a criteria that would get me started. I'm not convinced of this argument anyway, so I'd be eager to be proven wrong in my hypothesis.  ;D

Thanks!

Offline zaba

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I just feel odd that we’re not being clued in on what language the author of the post is talking about. He’s asking in generalities that would be better handled if we knew what language it was and could tackle specific examples of phrases from the language.

Tough, isn't it? Welcome to my world. I'm working with a couple different languages these days. This (potentially) adjective-less one is an Amazonian isolate. No description available. It is an agglutinative language surrounded by highly synthetic tonal ones.

Offline zaba

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Jase,

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Perhaps it’s just a lack of clarity in the posts.
Forgive me! It's tough stuff to understand for me, too.

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Does he mean to say, for example, that a doctor “makes someone well” as a way of saying that she “heals” the person? In that case, we should probably take “well” in a homonymous sense, seeing that it can mean both good.ADV or “healthy.” Does the poster mean something else? I’m having a hard time following the line of reasoning.

As for that example, it's not strange at all if one considers (1) that there may be no adjectives in this language so GOOD and WELL are the same words; and (2) that this verbalizer is a factive. Thus good/well + factive = 'make good/well', which, when said of animate nouns means 'heal'. You see, translation isn't always so straight-forward in languages which differ from your native one!

Anyway, again, I beg your pardon if my examples are difficult to understand or if it's hard to get my point. I am using natural language data, not textbook examples so that makes things more complex perhaps.

In the subject to this forum I asked if there are nec and sufficient conditions for a language to fulfil  in order for it to be considered as lacking adjectives. Many languages of the world lack adjectives. In some, the adjectives are verbs and in others nouns. This is, at least in part, a typological question.

I've always been happy to give other examples or provide additional data. I really enjoy getting the opinion of experts like yourselves and learning from you. However, not everything is unambiguous in this field -- especially when it comes to meanings ;)

Offline MalFet

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Can you give me a criteria that would get me started. I'm not convinced of this argument anyway, so I'd be eager to be proven wrong in my hypothesis.  ;D

Thanks!

I'll address your first part at some point later if I have a moment, but here's a simple test for the second.

Your skepticism about adjectives seems to come from the fact that semantic "adjectives" can function syntactically as nouns. In other words, you can have "a book" and "a blue book", but also simply "a blue".

The important question then becomes: can you have "a blue that is book"?

Edit: type-o

Offline zaba

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The important question then becomes: can you have "a blue that is book"?

Hard to imagine such a context, you mean for colour description, a construction a kin to: `grass-ish green' (as opposed to grass-green)? If so, yes (though for this lang it'd simply be grass-green)

Offline Daniel

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Malfet's point is a good one. In languages said to have no classes, anything can be an argument or predicate. So the two sentences are possible:
Man student.3SG 'the man students'
Student man.3SG 'the student mans'
Nonidiomatic translations to get the point across, meaning of course "...is a man". Likewise:
Eat man.3SG 'The eater mans'
Happy man.3SG 'the happy one mans'

So if you want to show lack of classes show that all nouns can be adjectival and all adjectives can be substantival. If so, there's no distinction at all.
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Offline zaba

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OK, I'll take it:
man student-verbalizer-3sg 'the man is a student'
student man-verbalizer-3sg 'the student is a man'
eat-agentive man-verbalizer-3sg 'the eater is a man'

But that's not the point: nouns and verbs are certain separate classes (after all, there are suffixes that nominalise and suffixes that verbalise) -- but the point is ADJECTIVES are NOUNS.

Can you help me dis/prove this hypothesis?

Offline Daniel

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I understand. You'd use similar tests for those classes. That's just what came to mind. There's an exercise in Carnie's textbook (from Salish?) that shows sentences like that. You should be able to do the same for A/N. Mallet gave one example.

Also, you could look at David Gil's research on Riau Indonesian, which he says has no classes at all.
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Offline zaba

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I'll check it out -- I'm not familiar with Carnie's textbook though. What's the title?

Offline Daniel

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Syntax: a generative introduction.

I'm thinking of the slightly older edition not the new 2013(?) one.
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Offline zaba

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oh sheesh does this go into some generative account of semantics? to be honest, i'm kind of troubled that no one on this forum can give me necessary and sufficient conditions to determine if there are a category of adjectives in a language. Nothing personal guys, but I didn't think it was a tough question.  You can ask anything about the language and I can provide working translations... think of it as a fieldwork exercise!

Or is the training these days so much more theoretically-orientated?

Offline Daniel

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oh sheesh does this go into some generative account of semantics?
Syntax? And, no, it doesn't. It's in a theoretical textbook, but that's what you're doing-- theoretical linguistics, based on distributional criteria for word classes. If you don't understand that much (whether or not you know/accept the rest of the theory), then you cannot possibly answer the question you're asking.

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to be honest, i'm kind of troubled that no one on this forum can give me necessary and sufficient conditions to determine if there are a category of adjectives in a language. Nothing personal guys, but I didn't think it was a tough question.  You can ask anything about the language and I can provide working translations... think of it as a fieldwork exercise!
Translations are far from sufficient for grammatical analysis. If you use translations, you'll find that mysteriously all languages have the same word classes as English! Further, if you rely at all on semantics, you'll also run into major problems ("destroy" vs. "destruction" for example). This is covered in an introductory textbook like Carnie's (among dozens of others).

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Or is the training these days so much more theoretically-orientated?
What do you think you're doing? Where do classification criteria come from?


In the end, here's where we are: you aren't using a theory, but you want to know what the arbitrary words "noun" and "adjective" mean enough to determine whether a certain language has those classes. How can that be determined except by theoretical criteria?

Regardless, a simple answer has been provided: word classes are distinct if there are situations in which a word from one class cannot be used in place a word from another class. For example, prepositions and conjunctions are distinct in English:
I walked in the store.
*I walked and the store.
(That should be obvious, but also a clear explanation of why.)

Now you just need to look at the language(s) you're working with and see whether nouns and adjectives (based on an initial, rough approximation from semantics) are interchangable in all cases. Are there times where only an adjective can be used?


There is no better answer than that, unless you're working in a certain theory (in which case that will still apply, so you may as well rely on it, given that the theory could be wrong). There aren't universal rules out there for what a noun is or what an adjective is.
And that's the problem: we can't do anything (like come up with N&S conditions) for nouns or adjectives unless we know what they are; to work around this, we can assume that such classes exist and then test whether they're distinct.


Personally, I'd recommend reading Carnie. The first couple chapters aren't especially "theoretical" in the sense you're using the word, and they cover all of this in detail.



Finally, on a related note, you may want to consider whether you're talking about syntactic function or lexical nature. Do these words have classes in the lexicon? Or do they just function one way or another in a sentence? This gets very complicated with affixes like verbalizers and so forth.
In a sense, we can say (not sure how valuable this is) that all languages have nouns and adjectives-- things, and words that describe those things. That's on the surface. But whether a word like "blue" is technically two words (blue.ADJ and blue.N) or just one word (blue.N/ADJ) is a major question that depends on how you analyze it.

What appears to be the case is that there are roots and those roots get used in various positions with affixes. This suggests that there is a lot of morphology and possibly no/few distinctions in the lexicon for those roots. But then you get into complicated questions of whether these are grammatical or derivational morphemes and so forth.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2014, 11:26:46 PM by djr33 »
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Offline jkpate

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I just want to chime in and reinforce djr33's point that "adjective" and "noun" are ultimately going to be theoretical concepts, and so the necessary and sufficient conditions will come down to what your theory of word categories says, and your choice of theory will come down to what you want to do with that theory. You seem to be building your intuitions from two observation: 1) words that typically refer to entities can receive the same suffix as words that typically modify words that typically refer to entities, and 2) words that typically modify words that refer to entities can also themselves refer to entities. If these are the only kinds of generalizations you want your theory to capture, then it might make sense to use only one category for these words.

As an example of another theory, CCG has only two simple syntactic categories, N(oun) and S(entence), and an infinite number of complex categories that encode how words combine with each other. The categories are defined this way to build a close relationship between syntactic structure and semantic structure.
All models are wrong, but some are useful - George E P Box

Offline Daniel

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I need to look into CCG. Is there a good intro you can recommend?
Sorry for dragging this a bit off topic, Zaba!
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Offline zaba

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In a sense, we can say (not sure how valuable this is) that all languages have nouns and adjectives-- things, and words that describe those things.

Yeah, I may be a novice, but I kinda got that already...

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That's on the surface. But whether a word like "blue" is technically two words (blue.ADJ and blue.N) or just one word (blue.N/ADJ) is a major question that depends on how you analyze it.
Sure, but that decision is obviously based on some criteria, no? That's what I'm asking about.

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What appears to be the case is that there are roots and those roots get used in various positions with affixes. This suggests that there is a lot of morphology and possibly no/few distinctions in the lexicon for those roots.

Sure, but what I keep saying in nearly every post is that there are verbalizers and nominalizers.
Here's my logic in saying that there are only two categories:
- A noun must be verbalised to take verbal suffixes like tense, mood, or aspect.
- A verb must be nominalised to take nominal suffixes like declension
- A noun can never be nominalised
- A verb can never be verbalised
- An adjective must be verbalised to take verbal suffixes like tense mood and aspect.
- An adjective can never be nominalised.
Therefore, adjectives pattern with nouns. The only reason to postulate a category of adjectives is if we are influenced by indoeuro languages.

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But then you get into complicated questions of whether these are grammatical or derivational morphemes and so forth.
OK, let's not go there ;)