Lately I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about the non-standard linguistic terminology used in various subfields of linguistics. For me, this is obviously most pertinent for Eskimo-Aleut linguistics, but it’s certainly not an issue unique to any one area (e.g. masdar in Caucasian and Arabic linguistics or aizuchi in Japanese conversation analysis).
Some of the Eskimo-Aleut terms I’m inclined to abandon are:
- relative (ergative)
- fourth person (third person non-reflexive)
- postbase (derivational suffix)
- terminalis (allative)
- vialis (perlative)
- similaris (equative)
- modalis (your guess is as good as mine)
So, for the few people who actually read my blog, I’d like to throw the following question out there: What are the pros and cons of not adhering to subfield-specific terminology norms? What are the consequences of bucking tradition in favor of wider accessibility and standardization?
The pro that immediately jumps to mind is that materials using standard linguistic terminology will be more accessible to linguists and others outside the subfield. Someone wanting Eskimo-Aleut data to support a theory, for example, might be baffled by the modalis case, which is ill-described even within the subfield. Nonstandard terminology may also make it more difficult for lay users.
One con would be that by not using the familiar subfield-specific terminology, you might be isolating yourself from fellow linguists in the subfield. Another, arguably more important, would be that by insisting on standard linguistics jargon, you might be forcing grammatical categories onto a language where they aren’t appropriate (particulary Indo-European-derived grammatical terms onto non-IE languages). Choosing ‘instrumental’ rather than ‘modalis’, for example, may imply a far more unified set of functions for the case than it may have in the data. Then again, maybe people started using terms like ‘modalis’ precisely because it was easier to label what is clearly one morphosyntactic case than figure out its various functions in more detail. (I’m not saying I can do any better – at least in Iñupiaq, modalis does have a dizzying array of functions.)
Intuitively, I feel that there’s been less use of subfield-specific terms in Eskimo-Aleut linguistics within the last twenty or so years. Sadock, for example, is one who tends to use standard terminology within the subfield. He uses instrumental where others use modalis. While it’s not a perfect fit, because this case clearly has some uses that aren’t instrumental, at least some of the uses are instrumental. Fortescue keeps some of the subfield terms (relative) but not others (similaris – he uses equative instead).
My dissertation advisor (Anggarrgoon) had the brilliant idea of defining case names as variables in my LaTeX files, which means that if necessary, I can change all of the case terms in an entire document easily and without rewriting everything. Indecisive to the last? Perhaps, but I suppose I see it as leaving options open. For the time being, I’m come to the conclusion that the pros of abandoning subfield-specific terminology outweigh the cons.
I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the pros and cons, especially others in subfields with lots of non-standard terms. Did you abandon non-standard terms and wish you hadn’t? Stuck with them but regretted it?