complexity measures

Scott DeLancey delancey at
Sun Jan 18 13:52:32 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
On Sat, 17 Jan 1998, Miguel Carrasquer Vidal wrote:
> There is no objective measure of "language complexity", so I don't see
> how this might have been "shown".  "Dogma", on the other hand, strikes
> me as too strong a term.  I'd say "heuristic".  Most languages seem to
> be about equivalently complex.  But there certainly are exceptions.
I'm not sure that "dogma" is too strong at all.  Absent any metric
for quantifying overall complexity--without, for that matter, any
metric for quantifying complexity of any given subsystem--any claim
that all (or even most) languages are equivalently complex is simply
meaningless.  There are lots of words one could apply to public
insistence on an empirically vacuous claim; "dogma" doesn't seem
unnecessarily harsh.
    When you say "most languages *seem* to be about equivalently
complex", can you explicate this intuition at all?  When I think
about the question, for languages I know a bit about--i.e. are
English, Hare, Tibetan, Klamath, Sunwar all about equally complex,
or not--I get no intuition at all; I don't have any sense of how
to measure or even estimate complexity so as to make the question
answerable even in principle.
Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA
delancey at

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