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- Language universals and interlinguistic variation (1975)
- Actually, the title should include intralinguistic variation along with the interlinguistic one. For variation within one and the same language is the thing which directly presents itself to the observation while it still remains to be demonstrated that phenomena in different languages can be regarded as variants to be assigned to one and the same invariant principle. There are two senses in which the terms of variant, variation are used in the following remarks: one, which has just been mentioned, concerns the assignment of variants to some definite invariant. The other implies the possibility of gradient transitions and opposes the notions of discreteness and of yes-or-no. I shall not try here to reconcile these two senses and I trust that what I intend to show will become intelligible nevertheless. Henri Delacroix (1924:126f) has reformulated an old hypothesis which seems worth exploring in connection with the search for language universals: "Une langue est une variation historique sur le grand thème humain du langage." It remains to be seen what "le grand thème" or rather "les grands thèmes" are about and what particular language-specific properties could be shown to be variants of one and the same theme. One such major theme which we shall now investigate is the interrelation between, on one side, a word or a sequence of words, and, on the other, a sentence. As this for us is not only a syntactic but also a semantic problem, we might rephrase the anti thesis as that between a term or sequence of terms and a proposition. Two alternative views on the nature of this interrelation seem conceivable: A. The interrelation is yes-or-no, i. e. an element or a string of elements either constitutes a term (sequence of terms) or a proposition. B. The interrelation is of gradient nature, i. e. we find intermediary stages. Both alternatives are appropriate, but under different circumstances.
- Determination: A universal dimension for inter-language comparison (1976)
- The basic idea I want to develop and to substantiate in this paper consists in replacing – where necessary – the traditional concept of linguistic category or linguistic relation understood as 'things', as reified hypostases, by the more dynamic concept of dimension. A dimension of language structure is not coterminous with one single category or relation but, instead, accommodates several of them. It corresponds to certain well circumscribed purposive functions of linguistic activity as well as to certain definite principles and techniques for satisfying these functions. The true universals of language are represented by these dimensions, principles, and techniques which constitute the true basis for non-historical inter-language comparison. The categories and relations used in grammar are condensations – hypostases as it were – of such dimensions, principles, and techniques. Elsewhere I have outlined the theory which I want to test here in a case study.
- Two systems of Cahuilla kinship expressions : labeling and descriptive ; [to appear in the Festschrift for Madison S. Beeler] (1977)
- The language of the Cahuillas shows two systems of expressions referring to kinship, which could be termed, respectively, as labeling-relational and as descriptive-establishing. […] Descriptive terms show two properties: 1. They are analysable into constituent elements so as to recognize the connection between the term and the proposition. 2. They are distinguishable from the proposition: a. by a special formal element […], in Cahuilla the absolutive suffix. b. by a narrowing or specialization in the meaning. A term which is not descriptive, i.e. which is not connected with a proposition, I shall call "label", "1abeling": It does not say anything about the object but is assigned to it just as a label is attached to a thing […].
- Two types of Cahuilla kinship expressions : inherent and establishing (1980)
- In my Cahuilla Grammar (Seiler 1977:276-282) and in a subsequent paper (Seiler 1980:229-236) I have drawn attention to the fact that many kin terms in this language, especially those that have a corresponding reciprocal term in the ascending direction – like niece or nephew in relation to aunt – occur in two expressions of quite different morphological shape. The following remarks are intended to furnish an explanation of this apparent duplicity.
- Posession as an operational dimension of language (1981)
- In this study I want to show, above all, that the linguistic expression of POSSESSION is not a given but represents a problem to be solved by the human mind. We must recognize from the outset that linguistic POSSESSION presupposes conceptual or notional POSSESSION, and I shall say more about the latter in Chapter 3. Certain varieties of linguistic structures in the particular languages are united by the fact that they serve the common purpose of expressing notional POS SESSION. But this cannot be their sole common denominator. How would we otherwise be able to recognize, to understand, to learn and to translate a particular linguistic structure as representing POSSESSION? There must be a properly linguistic common denominator, an invariant, that makes this possible. The invariant must be present both within a particular language and in cross-language comparison. What is the nature of such an invariant? As I intend to show, it consists in operational programs and functional principles corresponding to the purpose of expressing notional POSSESSION. The structures of possessivity which we find in the languages of the world represent the traces of these operations, and from the traces it becomes possible to reconstruct stepwise the operations and functions.
- Possessivity, subject and object (1982)
- The basic question is whether POSSESSOR and POSSESSUM are on the same level as the roles of VALENCE, two additional roles as it were. My research on POSSESSION has shown (Seiler 1981:7 ff.) that this is not the case, that there is a difference in principle between POSSESSION and VALENCE. However, there are multiple interactions between the two domains, and these interactions shall constitute the object of the following inquiry. It is hoped that this will contribute to a better understanding both of POSSESSION and of VALENCE.
- A functional view on prototypes (1989)
- The human mind may produce prototypization within virtually any realm of cognition and behavior. A "comparative prototype-typology" might prove to be an interesting field of study – perhaps a new subfield of semiotics. This, however, would presuppose a clear view on the samenesses and differences of prototypization in these various fields. It seems realistic for the time being that the linguist first confine himself to describing prototypization within the realm of language proper. The literature on prototypes has steadily grown in the past ten years or so. I confine myself to mentioning the volume on Noun Classes and Categorization, edited by C. Craig (1986), which contains a wealth of factual information on the subject, along with some theoretical vistas. By and large, however, linguistic prototype research is still basically in a taxonomic stage - which, of course, represents the precondition for moving beyond. The procedure is largely per ostensionem, and by accumulating examples of prototypes. We still lack a comprehensive prototype theory. The following pages are intended, not to provide such, a theory, but to do the first steps in this direction. Section 2 will feature some elements of a functional theory of prototypes. They have been developed by this author within the frame of the UNITYP model of research on language universals and typology. Section 3 will bring a discussion of prototypization with regard to selected phenomena of a wide range of levels of analysis: Phonology, morphosyntax, speech acts, and the lexicon. Prototypization will finally be studied within one of the universal dimensions, that of APPREHENSION - the linguistic representation of the concepts of objects – as proposed by Seiler (1986).
- A dimensional view on numeral systems (1989)
- The Stanford Project on Language Universals began its activities in October 1967 and brought them to an end in August 1976. Its directors were Joseph H. Greenberg and Charles A. Ferguson. The Cologne Project on Language Universals and Typology [with particular reference to functional aspects], abbreviated UNITYP, had its early beginnings in 1972, but deployed its full activities from 1976 onwards and is still operating. This writer, who is the principal investigator, had the privilege of collaborating with the Stanford Project during spring of 1976. […] One of the leading Greenbergian ideas is that of implicational generalizations, has been integrated as a fundamental principle in the construction of continua and of universal dimensions as proposed by UNITYP. It is hoped that the following considerations on numeral systems will be apt to bear witness to this situation. They would be unthinkable without Greenberg’s pioneering work on "Generalizations about numeral systems" (Greenberg 1978: 249 ff., henceforth referred to as Greenberg, NS). Further work on this domain and on other comparable domains almost inevitably leads one to the view that generalizations of the Greenberg type have a functional significance and that a dimensional framework is apt to bring this to the fore. This is the view on linguistic behaviour as being purposeful, and on language as a problem- solving device. The problem consists in the linguistic representation of cognitive-conceptual ideas. The solution is represented by the corresponding linguistic structures in their diversity and the task of the linguist consists in reconstructing the program and subprograms underlying the process of problem-solving. It is claimed that the construct of continua and of universal dimensions makes these programs intelligible.
- Language typology in the UNITYP model : paper presented for the XIV. International Congress of Linguists, August 1987, Berlin, DDR, Plenary Session on Typology (1987)
- The aim of this contribution is to embed the question of an antinomy between "integral" vs. "partial typology", inscribed as the topic of this plenary session, into the comprehensive framework of the dimensional model of the research group on language universals and typology (UNITYP). In this introductory section I shall evoke some cardinal points in the theory of linguistic typology, as viewed "from outside", viz. on the basis of striking parallelisms with psychological typology. Section 2 will permit a brief look on the dimensional model of UNITYP. In section 3 I shall present an illustration of a typological treatment on the basis of one particular dimension. In section 4 I shall draw some conclusions with special reference to the "integral vs. partial" antinomy.
- Language universals and typology in the UNITYP framework (1990)
- Why should we engage in language universals research and language typology? What do we want to explain? It is a fact that, although languages differ significantly and considerably. indeed, no one would deny, that they have something in common; how else could they be labelled 'language'? - There is obviously unity among them, no matter how vaguely felt and for what reasons: Scientific, practical, moral, etc. Neither diversity per se nor unity per se is what we want to explain. There is no reason whatsoever to consider either one of them as primary, and the other as derived. What we do want to explain is "equivalence in difference" – cf. our motto – which manifests itself, among others, in the translatability from one language to another, the learnability of any language, language change – which all presuppose that speakers intuitively find their way from diversity to unity. This is a highly salient property which deserves to be brought into our consciousness. Generally then, our basic goal is to explain the way in which language-specific facts are connected with a unitarian concept of language – "die Sprache" – "le langage".