Explaining Language Universals

Edith A. Moravcsik

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199281251
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Explaining Language Universals

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This article examines the roles of language universals; but first, a few words on what is meant by ‘language universal’ and by ‘explanation’ are given. It starts by addressing how language universals explain facts about individual languages. One of the two ways in which language universals figure in linguistic explanations is shown: they explain language-specific facts. The article turns to the other role of universals: serving as explananda themselves. Moreover, the structural, historical, and functional explanations for universals are explained. Two cases of universals elaborated by universal sources and universal constraints on change are offered. In addition, two case studies of functional explanations of universals are considered. The discussion generally emphasizes some of the complexities of explaining universals resulting from conflicting explanatory principles, especially with respect to functional explanations.

Keywords: language universals; linguistic explanations; individual languages; explananda; functional explanations

Article.  7696 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Linguistic Typology

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