CfP: WS Morphological complexity SLE 2015

Peter Arkadiev peterarkadiev at YANDEX.RU
Mon Oct 6 08:52:02 UTC 2014

Morphological complexity: empirical and cross-linguistic approaches

Workshop at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea, 
Leiden, September 2–5, 2015

Workshop organizers:
Peter Arkadiev (Moscow) peterarkadiev at
Francesco Gardani (Vienna) francesco.gardani at

Call deadline: November 8, 2015

Workshop description
The notion of “morphological complexity” (and “linguistic complexity” in general) has been on the linguistic agenda for more than a decade now (see, e.g., McWhorter 2001, 2005; Kusters 2003; Hawkins 2004; Dahl 2004; Shosted 2006; Miestamo et al. (eds.) 2008; Sampson et al. (eds.) 2009; Trudgill 2011; Dressler 2011). Thus far, there seems to be no consensus on several key issues, such as whether morphological complexity is a relative notion (“complexity for the learner”) or rather an “absolute” phenomenon; how morphological complexity can be measured and compared across languages; and, crucially, what phenomena constitute morphological complexity.

In current typological work, measures of morphological complexity are all based on the notion of morpheme and ultimately involve counting morphemes in one way or another (cf., e.g., “complexity” as sum of head- and dependent-marking points in Nichols 1992 or “category-per-word” value in Bickel & Nichols 2013). However, linguists approaching morphological complexity from the perspective of diachrony or language contact (e.g., Dahl 2004 or Trudgill 2011) have suggested that an important, if not the primary, locus of morphological complexity is “autonomous morphology” (cf. Aronoff 1994; Cruschina et al. 2013), i.e. morphological entities and processes which are not straightforwardly extramorphologically motivated, such as inflectional classes, allomorphy, patterns of syncretism, and the like. As is well known, such phenomena can be diachronically stable (Dahl 2004; Maiden 2005) but, at the same time, are the first candidates for loss in situations of language shift or creolization (McWhorter 2001; Trudgill 2011).

The goal of our workshop is to bring together linguists working on morphological typology, autonomous morphology, and language contact, in order to study the following fundamental, though yet unsolved, issues:
1) What exactly constitutes morphological complexity?
2) Do the following morphological phenomena contribute to morphological complexity and how can they be assessed from such perspective?
a. affixes: affix ordering (e.g. templatic morphology), syntagmatic interactions between morphological markers (e.g., between prefixes and suffixes, or between suffixes of different orders) in terms of restrictions on co-occurrence, allomorphy, and semantic interpretation;
b. morphophonology, i.e. sandhi, ablaut, lenition, etc.; 
c. stems: stem allomorphy, stem suppletion,  morphomic distributions, etc.;
d. paradigm structure: e.g., syncretism, deponency, extended exponence, principal parts etc.;
e. autonomous morphology: inflectional classes, heteroclisis, morphomes of different kinds (Aronoff 1994), etc.;
f. non-concatenative and non-linear morphology;
g. interactions between bound morphology and periphrasis.
3) How can morphological complexity be measured in an adequate way, i.e. taking into account the phenomena listed above (see, e.g., Bonami 2012; Bonami et al. 2011)?
4) How can morphological complexity be compared across languages in a principled and unbiased way, in light of the plethora of empirical phenomena subsumed under “morphology”, though not being limited to morpheme or category counts?
5) Which phenomena pertaining to morphological complexity, and under which circumstances, are prone resp. resistant to loss in different situations of language contact?
6) Are there morphological phenomena that, in situations of language contact, are subject to an increase in complexity?

We invite 20 minutes presentation (+ 8 minutes for discussion). Preliminary abstracts (300 words, DOC and/or PDF) should be sent to BOTH the workshop organizers (see the addresses above) by November 8, 2015.

Aronoff, Mark (1994). Morphology by Itself. Stems and Inflectional Classes. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.
Bickel, Balthasar & Johanna Nichols (2013). Inflectional synthesis of the verb. In: Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at
Bonami, Olivier (2012). Information-theoretic measures of inflectional complexity: Empirical challenges and analytic rewards. Presentation at the Southeast Morphology Meeting, Guildford, October 2012.
Bonami, Olivier, Gilles Boyé & Fabiola Henri (2011). Measuring inflectional complexity: French and Mauritian. Presentation from the Workshop on Quantitative Measures in Morphology and Morphological Development, San Diego, January 2011.
Cruschina, Silvio, Martin Maiden & John Charles Smith (eds.) (2013). The Boundaries of Pure Morphology. Diachronic and Synchronic Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dahl, Östen (2004). The Growth and Maintenance of Linguistic Complexity. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Dressler, Wolfgang U. (2011). The rise of complexity in inflectional morphology. Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics 47(2), 159–176.
Hawkins, John A. (2004). Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kusters, Wouter (2003). Linguistic Complexity. The Influence of Social Change on Verbal Inflection. Utrecht: LOT Publications.
Maiden, Martin (2005). Morphological autonomy and diachrony. In: Jaap van Marle & Geert Boiji (eds.), Yearbook of Morphology 2004. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 137–175.
McWhorter, John H. (2001). The world’s simplest grammars are creole grammars. Linguistic Typology 5, 125–166.
McWhorter, John H. (2005). Defining Creole. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Miestamo, Matti, Kaius Sinnemäki & Fred Karlsson (eds.) (2008). Language Complexity. Typology, Contact, Change. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Nichols, Johanna (1992). Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.
Sampson, Geoffrey, David Gil & Peter Trudgill (eds.) (2009). Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shosted, Ryan (2006). Correlating complexity: A typological approach. Linguistic Typology 10, 1–40.
Trudgill, Peter (2011). Sociolinguistic Typology. Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peter Arkadiev, PhD
Institute of Slavic Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences 
Leninsky prospekt 32-A 119334 Moscow
peterarkadiev at

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