Universals of Language: Quandaries and Prospects

Foundations of Language 12 (4):471-511 (1975)

Inspite of growing interest in research on language universals the concept of language universal itself has not been clarified beyond its status in Greenberg 1966. The present paper is an attempt at further clarification. The concept of language universal presents at least the following basic problems : Which entities are to be called universal? How can universality statements be deductively related to statements on individual languages and to non-linguistic statements, e.g. psychological ones? How are we to conceive the relation between the 'empirical' and the 'non-empirical' in universality research? It is argued that the universal entities should be properties of languages. Three conceptions of universals are characterized: The Naive View , the Semantic View , and the Pragmatic View proposed by the author . It is argued that the Naive View and the Semantic View do not, and that the Pragmatic View may solve the basic problems formulated in Part I. Combining the Pragmatic View with the conception of theories developed in Lieb to appear the author characterizes the ultimate aim of universality research as defining a set of properties that, if taken as universal by any linguist, maximize the fruitfulness of any theory of language. The main task of universality research consists in making universality proposals that are well-founded with respect to that aim. Various principles are suggested by which the well-foundedness of universality proposals can be judged
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