A. Katz amnfn at
Thu Mar 31 12:00:00 UTC 2011

Not all of us, even among the functionalists, think that language is a 
biologically based system.

My take on it is that it is an abstract code, subject to the mathematics 
of information theory.

Could language become more complex? Yes, but then who would be able to 
process it in real time? The biological bottleneck is the problem. It's 
not in the language. It's in us.


On Thu, 31 Mar 2011, Tom Givon wrote:

> 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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