[Lingtyp] Temporal features?

Eitan Grossman eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il
Tue Oct 2 04:23:59 UTC 2018

Hi all,

This conversation has taken all sorts of turns, so I'd like to go back to
Ian's original question and point out again that there is an empirical way
to look at this question, at least for some types of properties of language
and to certain time depths.

If you construct a sample of proto-languages for which a property can be
reconstructed with some degree of confidence (so maybe "no" for multiple-wh
questions, but maybe "yes" for some aspects of phonology, morphology, and
maybe more), you can compare distributions in this sample to distributions
in present-day languages. This is what Marsico, Verkerk, Moran and others
did for sound inventories in the papers I mentioned earlier.

Obviously, not all proto-languages are contemporaries, but there have been
some suggestions about how to deal with this elsewhere, like Matthew
Dryer's use of genera or Johanna Nichols' use of stocks.

One might also mention Bickel and Nichol's Family Bias Method, which wasn't
articulated for this particular question, but does end up identifying
diachronic trends in families, and as such, might be useful for seeing
whether earlier distributions are different from present-day ones.

To my mind, this has a better chance of providing new results than trying
to inferr earlier distributions from present-day ones, worthwhile and
interesting as that is in its own right.


Eitan Grossman
Senior Lecturer, Department of Linguistics/School of Language Sciences
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972 2 588 3809
Fax: +972 2 588 1224

On Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 6:39 AM Randy J. LaPolla <randy.lapolla at gmail.com>

> Hi All,
> There are different ways to understand complexity:
> Related to David’s discussion of multiple levels of jurisdictional
> hierarchy, Michael Halliday saw language as a resource for meaning
> creation, and talked about how the resources for meaning creation developed
> along with the increased complexity of societies, e.g. different registers
> and jargons for different domains. This view might give us different
> results from just looking at morphological complexity.
> Related to Jeffrey’s insight, in complexity science, a more unconstrained
> system is more complex, so understanding a morphologically simple language
> like Chinese can be said to involve more complexity than understanding a
> language that constrains the interpretation to a greater extent, e.g.
> German. (I have an early 1995 paper that talks about relative complexity
> like this).
> As Marianne implied, the discussion so far has assumed that communication
> involves the coding and decoding of symbols, but as she mentioned, and as
> Bollinger talked about as early as 1960, much of language is formulaic (he
> called it “idiomatic”), and so we are not generating or parsing sentences
> in every case, as had been assumed by Chomsky.
> Also, we need to keep in mind that it isn’t a simple correlation between
> large society and simple grammar, as there are different variables
> involved, such as the types of social networks that are involved and the
> type of language acquisition that is involved, as the idea related to the
> latter is that the simplification results from second language learners
> acquiring a language that involves different habits from their own and so
> they simplify out those differences.
> Randy
> -----
> *Randy J. LaPolla, PhD FAHA* (羅仁地)
> Professor of Linguistics, with a curtesy appointment in Chinese, School
> of Humanities
> Nanyang Technological University
> HSS-03-45, 14 Nanyang Drive | Singapore 637332
> http://randylapolla.net/
> Most recent book:
> https://www.routledge.com/The-Sino-Tibetan-Languages-2nd-Edition/LaPolla-Thurgood/p/book/9781138783324
> On 2 Oct 2018, at 2:52 AM, Marianne Mithun <mithun at linguistics.ucsb.edu>
> wrote:
> Of course it's not necessarily the case that morphologically complex words
> are usually parsed morpheme-by-morpheme online, especially with high
> frequency, frequency which might be enhanced in small societies.
> Marianne
> On Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 11:03 AM Heath Jeffrey <schweinehaxen at hotmail.com>
> wrote:
>> 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?
>> Martin,
>> 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
>> --
>> 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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