Word class universals and language-particular analysis
Martin Haspelmath
September 2021

The study of cross-linguistic word class variability and its limits needs to be based on clear comparative concepts because languages have different grammatical structures. Here I show that the notions of (i) function indicators and (ii) semantic root classes give us a way of formulating universals and of distinguishing cross-linguistic macro- classes in a rigorous way. The root classes are action, property, and object; function indicators are markers that signal an unusual propositional act function (e.g. a copula signals predicative use of an object root, and a relativizer signals modifying use of an action root). Substantive markers which add meaning substance (e.g tense markers or articles) are less useful for cross-linguistic comparison because they are so variable across languages. I distinguish sharply between comparison and language-particular analysis, because analysis must be based on language-particular constructions and is thus a rather different enterprise. Description and comparison are linked in that (for practical reasons) the language-particular categories are given labels that correspond to the general root classes (e.g. English Noun, which corresponds to the general root class noun).
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005899
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in: "Oxford handbook of word classes" (ed. by Eva van Lier)
keywords: word class, part of speech, language universals, syntax
previous versions: v1 [April 2021]
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