grammaticalization and complexity

ama01 at ama01 at
Wed Mar 16 11:34:29 UTC 2011

Thanks for raising this issue, dear Fritz. I don't think it is hard to  
come up with further examples where grammaticalization was responsible  
for an increase in overall complexity of the type X > X + Y. It all  
depends of course on how you define "resultant grammatical system".  
But if you assume, for example, that a language with (indefinite and  
definite) articles is more complex than one without then there are  
many languages in the world that have moved from less to more complex.  
Neither Proto-Germanic nor Latin had articles, while modern Germanic  
and Romance languages do, and the nature of the processes is  
well-known (in most cases via a development numeral 'one' > indefinite  
article, and demonstrative attribute > definite article,  
respectively). In this sense then there has been an increase in  
overall complexity (it goes without saying that this does not mean  
that Modern English is overall "more complex" than Proto-Germanic). If  
you want a hundred of more examples of this kind, please let me know.

> Funknetters,
> I am looking for nice examples of where a grammaticalization-related  
> change, however motivated it might be from the point of view of the  
> language user, ends up increasing the overall complexity of the  
> resultant grammatical system. One example that came to mind is the  
> formation of the distinct grammatical category of Modal Auxilary in  
> English out of a subclass of verbs. One might argue that English  
> grammar is now more complex because there are two categories rather  
> than one and each have very distinct properties. Can anybody think  
> of other/better examples from other languages?
> Thanks! I'll summarize if there is any interest.
> --fritz

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