Tom Givon tgivon at
Thu Mar 31 10:08:39 UTC 2011

Sounds like you're blasting again, ol' boy. Tho of course, there are 
going to be other interpretations. Chomsky's "simplicity metric" was NOT 
supposed to evaluate the simplicity/complexity of the phenomenon itself 
(language/grammar), but of the DESCRIPTION--in order for ol' Noam to 
justify the superiority of one "more economical" description (guess 
which?) over all others. Of course, we all know that "complexity " may 
in part depends on definitions & perspectives, but it would be a bit 
deflating for science if we should conclude that it is all JUST a matter 
of definition & perspectives. In the rise of biological structure, at 
the very least--both organisms and DNA, but also neurology--it is 
perfectly possible to talk about increased system complexity 
intelligibly without crashing into your logical conundrum. Certainly 
John Tyler Bonner has done it for biology,  Herbert Simon & others have 
done something similar for cognition. And I dimly recall something 
analogous being done in the "evolution" of the physical universe after 
the Big Bang, maybe Murray Gel-Mann? (Well, he has a whole Institute in 
Santa Fe dedicated to elaborating this...). So at least in principle, 
assuming that language IS a biologically-based phenomenon, it is not 
nonsensical to investigate its complexity. For what's good for the goose...

Keep on truckin', Esa.   TG


On 3/31/2011 3:48 AM, Esa Itkonen wrote:
> Simplicity and complexity are conceptually interdependent: if, and only if, you can define one, you can define the other. Between 1957 and c. 1997 it was confidently predicted that a valid definition of simplicity (conceptualized as a "simplicity measure") was just around the corner. But, as we all know, nothing came of it. Nowadays much the same is being claimed about complexity. This seems illogical, however, for reasons just indicated. (Never mind that simplicity and complexity are mainly thought to apply to grammars and languages, respectively. It would surely be odd if the simplicity/complexity of grammars in no way reflected the simplicity/complexity of languages.) Why is all this so difficult? Some hints at an answer may or may not be gathered from my 2011 piece on 'Simplicity vs. complexity' (= click first 'Homepage' and then 'Selected writings available as full texts'). Some historical and conceptual background is provided by 'Philosophy of linguistics' (= 2011, to a
> ppear in the 'Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics'). You are also free to have a (second?) look at what I wrote about this topic back in 2009.
> Esa
> Homepage:

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