Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable

Paperback | February 26, 2009

EditorGeoffrey Sampson, David Gil, Peter Trudgill

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This book presents a challenge to the widely-held assumption that human languages are both similar and constant in their degree of complexity. For a hundred years or more the universal equality of languages has been a tenet of faith among most anthropologists and linguists. It has beenfrequently advanced as a corrective to the idea that some languages are at a later stage of evolution than others. It also appears to be an inevitable outcome of one of the central axioms of generative linguistic theory: that the mental architecture of language is fixed and is thus identical in alllanguages and that whereas genes evolve languages do not. Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable reopens the debate. Geoffrey Sampson's introductory chapter re-examines and clarifies the notion and theoretical importance of complexity in language, linguistics, cognitive science, and evolution. Eighteen distinguished scholars from all over the worldthen look at evidence gleaned from their own research in order to reconsider whether languages do or do not exhibit the same degrees and kinds of complexity. They examine data from a wide range of times and places. They consider the links between linguistic structure and social complexity and relatetheir findings to the causes and processes of language change. Their arguments are frequently controversial and provocative; their conclusions add up to an important challenge to conventional ideas about the nature of language. The authors write readably and accessibly with no recourse to unnecessary jargon. This fascinating book will appeal to all those interested in the interrelations between human nature, culture, and language.

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This book presents a challenge to the widely-held assumption that human languages are both similar and constant in their degree of complexity. For a hundred years or more the universal equality of languages has been a tenet of faith among most anthropologists and linguists. It has beenfrequently advanced as a corrective to the idea tha...

Geoffrey Sampson is Professor of Natural Language Computing at the University of Sussex. He has held positions at SOAS and LSE and at the universities of Oxford, Lancaster, and Leeds, where he was Professor of Linguistics from 1985-1990. His recent books include Empirical Linguistics and The 'Language Instinct' Debate (Continuum 2001 ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:328 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.07 inPublished:February 26, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199545227

ISBN - 13:9780199545223

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Table of Contents

1. Geoffrey Sampson: A Linguistic Axiom Challenged2. David Gil: How Much grammar Does it Take to Sail a Boat?3. Walter Bisang: On the Evolution of Complexity - Sometimes Less is More in East and Mainland Southeast Asia4. Osten Dahl: Testing the Assumption of Complexity Invariance: The Case of Elfdalian and Swedish5. Benedikt Szmrecsanyi and Bernd Kortmann: Between Simplification and Complexification: Non-standard Varieties of English Around the World6. Matti Miestamo: Implicational Hierarchies and Grammatical Complexity7. Peter Trudgill: Sociolinguistic Typology and Complexification8. Johanna Nichols: Linguistic Complexity: A Comprehensive Definition and Survey9. Kaius Sinnemaki: Complexity in Core Argument Marking and Population Size10. John McWhorter: Oh noo!: A Bewilderingly Multifunctional Saramaccan Word Teaches us How a Creole Language Develops Complexity11. Utz Maas: Orality Versus Literacy as a Dimension of Complexity12. Ngoni Chipere: Individual Differences in Processing complex Grammatical Structures13. Fred Karlsson: Origin and Maintenance of Clausal Embedding Complexity14. Ljiljana Progovac: Layering of Grammar: Vestiges of Protosyntax in Present-day Languages15. Geoffrey Sampson: An Interview With Dan Everett16. Eugenie Stapert: Universals in Language or Cognition? Evidence from English Languae Acquisition and from Piraha17. Guy Deutscher: "Overall Complexity" - a Wild Goose Chase?18. John A. Hawkins: An Efficiency Theory of Complexity and Related Phenomena19. The Editors: EnvoiReferencesIndex