[Lingtyp] Temporal features?

Heath Jeffrey schweinehaxen at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 1 18:03:47 UTC 2018

An object lesson about correlations between societal complexity and linguistic complexity is the trajectory of Trudgill's work. His original basic idea was that small, tightly-knit societies allow (and perhaps favor) complex phonemic inventories and opaque morphology to develop. If you read "Sociolinguistic Typology" from cover to cover, you get the sense that halfway through writing it he realized that small, tightly-knit societies can also allow highly simple systems (like those David has brought to our attention). So large-population national languages are stuck in a narrow range in the middle, while those of small tightly-knit ones can range widely in both directions. Not fully elucidated by Trudgill but implied by his results: the common denominator between very high complexity and very low complexity is that both types of language put a high cognitive burden on the listener, who must either quickly parse words that contain many tiny morphemes in complex networks on the one hand, or must infer the speaker's meaning from limited lexical input on the other hand. It's cognitive complexity in this shifty sense, not mechanically computed complexity (number of phonemes, morphemes-per-word counts, etc.), that we should be looking at. But this doesn't make research methodology any easier.
From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de>
Sent: Monday, October 1, 2018 12:18 PM
To: Martin Kohlberger
Cc: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org; josephdbrooks at ucsb.edu
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Temporal features?


On 01/10/2018 22:45, Martin Kohlberger wrote:
> Dear David,
> Following Joseph's comment, I really don't follow your point.  How
> does your "national language" value necessarily correlate with greater
> socio-political complexity compared to a "local language only recently
> part of larger polity"?  Are you implying that communities which speak
> a local language that is not part of a larger polity are necessarily
> socio-politically less complex than communities which speak a national
> language?
More or less, yes, that's what I'm implying.  Nation states have
multiple levels of jurisdictional hieraerchy; they have newspapers,
public transport, bureaucracies, football leagues, universities, you
name it.  Hunter-gatherer societies have essentially none of the above.

(I'm not quite sure what the source of the misunderstanding is.  If it
has anything to do with apparent value judgements, I should emphasize
that there is nothing inherently better or worse in being more complex,
be it grammatically or socio-politically.)


David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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