Author Topic: What are nec and sufficient conditions for you to agree that a lang lacked adjs?  (Read 31773 times)

Offline MalFet

  • Global Moderator
  • Serious Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 282
  • Country: us
Quote
That's a handy simplification, but it's rarely actually true if you get down and dirty in the phonetics. There's a reason, for example, that English doesn't have a word "sbin".
OK, we're getting of track here -- simplification or not, the fact is phoneticians agree that the prototype of the phoneme /p/ is not voiced. It does not have the distinctive feature for voice.

Anyway, while we're on the topic for distinctive features, what are the "distinctive features" for adjectives in e.g. English that make them distinct from nouns in the same language?

It's not off track, though. That's the very important thing. You keep talking about "the prototype of the phoneme /p/", but no such thing exists without a great big pile of theory. Seriously. Phoneticians do not agree that the phoneme /p/ is not voiced, because that's not how phonemes work. Phonemes -- fundamentally -- do not possess *any* extent of cross-linguistic identity. There is no prototype from which individual languages are deviations. The only thing that exists is contrast, and we ascribe these contrasts with conventional labels to make it easier to talk to each other. The fact that we call all these different things /p/ is a descriptive convenience.

The same is true for functional categories like adjective and noun. What makes an adjective an adjective is that it's not a noun. What makes a noun a noun is that it's not an adjective. If you want to postulate (as many do) a more universal schema, you're doing so in terms of a particular theoretical frame.

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: us
    • English
The prototype for noun is "thing" and the prototype for adjective is "property", but that won't get you far in the analysis of course.

There is no universal test, in the same way that the "bat vs pat" test is valid only within English. Based on the grammatical rules you have, are there constructions where nouns and adjectives are distinct?
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline zaba

  • Serious Linguist
  • ****
  • Posts: 272
Quote
The only thing that exists is contrast, and we ascribe these contrasts with conventional labels to make it easier to talk to each other. The fact that we call all these different things /p/ is a descriptive convenience.

I was under the impression that all phonemes could be described with reference to distinctive features, depending on what language they were a part of.

Anyway...

Quote
There is no universal test, in the same way that the "bat vs pat" test is valid only within English.
I disagree. Minimal pairs are a kind of test... no?

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: us
    • English
Quote
I was under the impression that all phonemes could be described with reference to distinctive features, depending on what language they were a part of.
In a specific theory that defines particular distinctive features, yes.
Without that theory, certainly not.

In that regard, features for phonemes are much more researched than whatever the equivalent would be for word classes, but either way both topics are up for debate.

Quote
I disagree. Minimal pairs are a kind of test... no?
In the same sense that "multiple choice" might be a good kind of test for a math class.
What I meant is that there is no ready-to-go-just-fill-in-some-sentences test for nouns vs. adjectives. It depends on the language in question.

In short: the answer is checking for contrastiveness (using minimal pairs).
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline zaba

  • Serious Linguist
  • ****
  • Posts: 272
 :o
Yes!
What are some good minimal pairs to start checking with?

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: us
    • English
Quote
What are some good minimal pairs to start checking with?
That's exactly what I said isn't universal! You can't check "bat" and "pat", nor can you check based on English nouns/adjectives.

But you should be able to fairly easily think of a handful of uses of each, and then see whether they're interchangable. We've said that already-- check MalFet's earlier post for at least one example.
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline zaba

  • Serious Linguist
  • ****
  • Posts: 272
ok, let's stick with English nouns vs adjectives. On what basis would you claim they are separate categories? Adjectives, in Eng, after all, are rather noun-like.

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: us
    • English
very happy
*very book

This dog is big.
*This big is dog.

dog > dogs
big > *bigs

dog > *dogger
big > bigger

etc.

These exact tests will not apply to other languages, but some may and the general idea will apply.
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline MalFet

  • Global Moderator
  • Serious Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 282
  • Country: us
Quote
The only thing that exists is contrast, and we ascribe these contrasts with conventional labels to make it easier to talk to each other. The fact that we call all these different things /p/ is a descriptive convenience.

I was under the impression that all phonemes could be described with reference to distinctive features, depending on what language they were a part of.

Anyway...

Everything I'm saying about phonemes applies to features as well. If your theoretical model presumes the existence of features, then that's actually your basis of contrast. Phonemes then become composites and nothing more.

Quote
There is no universal test, in the same way that the "bat vs pat" test is valid only within English.
I disagree. Minimal pairs are a kind of test... no?

Minimal pairs are a demonstration of contrast. That's it. They do not, at face value, tell you anything about the nature of the contrast. There is nothing inherent to the universe that mandates certain kinds of contrasts to exist in language. These contrasts are language specific, and it is methodologically dangerous to go in assuming we should be able to find minimal pairs of a particular type in a given language.

In other words, you just need to look for distributional criteria: syntactic and morphological contexts in which one class of word can appear but another can't. That's it. We can't tell you ahead of time what those contexts will be. Daniel has illustrated some of those contexts for English, but as he says there is no reason those same distributional criteria will work in the languages you are working on.

Typologically speaking, most languages make a distinction in basic predication. If you really can say "This big is dog" as easily as "This dog is big", it is entirely possible that the language does not distribute nouns and adjectives contrastively. More tests are needed, but that's a good start.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2014, 07:51:42 PM by MalFet »

Offline zaba

  • Serious Linguist
  • ****
  • Posts: 272
Thanks, guys.

Quote
very happy
*very book
Both would be ok (though 'very book' would mean 'many books', although it's the same 'very' as in 'very happy')

Quote
This dog is big.
*This big is dog.
hard to say because the copula is different... but sorta possible to have both orders

Quote
dog > dogs
big > *bigs
'bigs' is ok. (meaning in Eng 'the big ones')

Quote
dog > *dogger
big > bigger
augmentive doesn't exist in this language.

Quote
Typologically speaking, most languages make a distinction in basic predication. If you really can say "This big is dog" as easily as "This dog is big", it is entirely possible that the language does not distribute nouns and adjectives contrastively. More tests are needed, but that's a good start.
I really appreciate this test -- but it's a tough one because the copula doesn't exist in this language, at least in a comparable way. Can you or anyone think of a similarly simple "first pass" test?

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: us
    • English
Quote
hard to say because the copula is different... but sorta possible to have both orders
It's not a question of whether it can be said/translated but whether it is the same construction for both. If not, that's clear evidence that they behave differently.



Also:
The big dog
*The dog big
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline MalFet

  • Global Moderator
  • Serious Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 282
  • Country: us
I really appreciate this test -- but it's a tough one because the copula doesn't exist in this language, at least in a comparable way. Can you or anyone think of a similarly simple "first pass" test?

As I keep trying to say, I can't, no, because I don't know anything about this language and there's no test that can be reliably applied cross linguistically.

Typologically speaking, it would be very unusual (though not impossible) for a language to treat subjects and predicates identically in all instances. That said, I can't guess how or if this language happens to treat them differently. If the language you're looking at does indeed decline to make a subject/predicate distinction, you're probably looking at a language in which word class doesn't play a particularly important part. If it does make a subject/predicate distinction in some cases, the question then becomes whether all non-verb words can appear in all positions within these structures.

Offline zaba

  • Serious Linguist
  • ****
  • Posts: 272
Thanks everyone!