Linguistik-Klassifikation: Quantitative Linguistik / Quantitative linguistics
Absolute and statistical universals
- Language universals are statements that are true of all languages, for example: “all languages have stop consonants”. But beneath this simple definition lurks deep ambiguity, and this triggers misunderstanding in both interdisciplinary discourse and within linguistics itself. A core dimension of the ambiguity is captured by the opposition “absolute vs. statistical universal”, although the literature uses these terms in varied ways. Many textbooks draw the boundary between absolute and statistical according to whether a sample of languages contains exceptions to a universal. But the notion of an exception-free sample is not very revealing even if the sample contained all known languages: there is always a chance that an as yet undescribed language, or an unknown language from the past or future, will provide an exception.