Grammar writing from a dissertation advisor’s perspective
Andrew Pawley, pp. 7-23
Anyone who intends to produce a grammar of a previously little-described language needs to (1) plan the scope, methods and timetable of the data gathering process, (2) think about the conceptual framework that will shape data-gathering and analysis, (3) gather and organize the data, (4) analyse the data, and (5) plan the structure of the written account and (6) write the grammar. The steps are not simply sequential but are to some extent cyclical. This chapter will look at an advisor’s role in guiding a PhD student through these steps. It will focus on the following questions: What kinds of data, and how much, are sufficient to base a grammar on? What is a realistic size for a PhD dissertation grammar? What are the main alternative ways of organizing a grammatical description, e.g. in terms of topic divisions and sequencing? What are the dos and don’ts to be followed in order to make the grammar as descriptively adequate and user friendly as possible? What are the main reasons why some students take forever to complete the analysis and writing process?
The data and the examples: Comprehensiveness, accuracy, and sensitivity
Marianne Mithun, pp. 25-52
Good grammars are read by diverse audiences with a wide variety of interests. One might not write a reference grammar in exactly the same way for all potential users, but, particularly in the case of under-documented and endangered languages, it is likely that whatever is produced now will be consulted for answers to questions beyond those originally anticipated. A good grammar can provide more than descriptions of patterns the grammarian has noted at the time of writing; the examples it contains can provide a basis for future discoveries and new uses. It thus makes sense to consider the types of data that might best meet the needs of current and future readers, some of which we cannot even imagine at present. For some purposes, sensitive, typologically-informed elicitation is necessary, while for others, material drawn from unscripted connected speech is crucial. Here the potential contributions of examples of each type are considered for descriptions of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, prosody, language change, and language contact.
On the role and utility of grammars in language documentation and conservation
Kenneth L. Rehg, pp. 53-67
The National Science Foundation warns that at least half of the world’s approximately seven thousand languages are soon to be lost. In response to this impending crisis, a new subfield of linguistics has emerged, called language documentation or, alternatively, documentary linguistics. The goal of this discipline is to create lasting, multipurpose records of endangered languages before they are lost forever. However, while there is widespread agreement among linguists concerning the methods of language documentation, there are considerable differences of opinion concerning what its products should be. Some documentary linguists argue that the outcome of language documentation should be a large corpus of extensively annotated data. Reference grammars and dictionaries, they contend, are the products of language description and are not essential products of language documentation. I argue, however, that grammars (and dictionaries) should normally be included in the documentary record, if our goal is to produce products that are maximally useful to both linguists and speakers, now and in the future. I also show that an appropriately planned reference grammar can serve as a foundation for a variety of community grammars, the purposes of which are to support and conserve threatened languages.
Sounds in grammar writing
Keren Rice, pp. 69-89
While there has been much written on writing grammars in recent years, relatively little has been written on the place of sounds and their patterning in grammar writing. In this chapter I provide an overview of some of the challenges of writing about sounds, and discuss the kinds of information on sounds that are generally included in grammars. I then address what a grammar might ideally include on the sounds of a language, advocating the inclusion of sound files to augment the usual topics, increasing both the scientific merit and the human value of the grammar.
Toward a balanced grammatical description
Thomas Payne, pp. 91-108
The writer of a grammatical description attempts to accomplish many goals in one complex document. Some of these goals seem to conflict with one another, thus causing tension, discouragement and paralysis for many descriptive linguists. For example, all grammar writers want their work to speak clearly to general linguists and to specialists in their language area tradition. Yet a grammar that addresses universal issues, may not be detailed enough for specialists; while a highly detailed description written in a specialized areal framework may be incomprehensible to those outside of a particular tradition. In the present chapter, I describe four tensions that grammar writers often face, and provide concrete suggestions on how to balance these tensions effectively and creatively. These tensions are:
• Comprehensiveness vs. usefulness.
• Technical accuracy vs. understandability.
• Universality vs. specificity.
• A ‘form-driven’ vs. a ‘function-driven’ approach.
By drawing attention to these potential conflicts, I hope to help free junior linguists from the unrealistic expectation that their work must fully accomplish all of the ideals that motivate the complex task of describing the grammar of a language. The goal of a description grammar is to produce an esthetically pleasing, intellectually stimulating, and genuinely informative piece of work.
Endangered domains, thematic documentation and grammaticography
Jacob Terrell, pp. 109-119
When setting out to document a language with the intended goal of describing it (typically through a grammar and dictionary), fieldworkers prefer to collect an array of linguistic data, ranging from elicited words and paradigms to an assortment of texts based on conversations, narratives, procedures and so forth. Capturing a wide variety of speech acts provides a clearer record of the language and its use, and thus offers the potential for a richer description of the language at hand. However, without controlling for content, one may collect linguistic data based on an open-ended amount of topics or themes. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the notion of endangered linguistic domains and themes in language documentation and description. Even in thriving minority languages, domains such as indigenous music or knowledge of flora and fauna come under pressure from the same forces that eventually lead to language endangerment. Gathering linguistic data based on a particular domain or specialized knowledge can generate a corpus applicable to a wider audience without sacrificing the needs of linguists. Similar to thematic dictionaries in lexicography, this introduces thematic grammars to grammaticography.
Walking the line: Balancing description, argumentation and theory in academic grammar writing
Carol Genetti, pp. 121-134
This chapter explores how to incorporate linguistic typology, argumentation, and theoretical innovation into a reference grammar. It provides recommendations on how to produce a balanced grammar that is firmly grounded in theory, responsible to the unique structures of the language, and comprehensible now and over time. Linguistic typology provides a set of widely recognized linguistic categories used in the classification of grammatical patterns. These can be taken as starting points from which the structures of the language can be compared, contrasted, explored, and explained, profiling the unique shapes of language-particular categories. Argumentation for particular analyses provides clarification and explanation, although excessive argumentation can obscure descriptive facts. Simply asserting facts is appropriate for lower-level linguistic features, simple canonical structures, or uncontroversial elements or their functions. Argumentation is appropriate when structures differ from typologically-expected patterns, when the analysis counters descriptions in the literature, and in cases of multiple interpretations of a structure. Grammar writing immerses researchers in the structure of a language, revealing new vistas of understanding and novel ways of interpreting structure. Theoretically innovative analyses that reflect these insights can be incorporated as long as they are motivated, well-explained, and balanced by a typologically-informed descriptive base.
Corpus linguistic and documentary approaches in writing a grammar of a previously undescribed language
Ulrike Mosel, pp. 135-157
Drawing on her experiences with writing a grammar in the course of the Teop language documentation project, the author explores how corpus linguistic methods can be employed for the analysis and description of a previously undescribed language. After giving a short introduction into the creation of a digital corpus and complex corpus search methods, the chapter focuses on the importance of creating a diversified corpus. It demonstrates that different text varieties such as spoken and written legends, procedural texts and descriptions of objects show different preferences for certain ways of expression and thus represent valuable resources for various grammatical phenomena. Accordingly, a grammar which is based on texts should account for this variation by incorporating a detailed description of the corpus, giving references and metadata for each example and providing information on the kind of contexts particular grammatical features are usually associated with.