[Lingtyp] Temporal features?

Jan Rijkhoff linjr at cc.au.dk
Tue Oct 2 15:04:45 UTC 2018

Perkins (1992)  investigated deictic distinctions in a sample of 49 languages taken from different linguistic families and spoken in cultures of varying complexity (ranked on a scale of 5). The main hypothesis (which was generally confirmed in this study) is “that the number of grammaticized deictic distinctions (those likely to be coded by affixes and in closed grammatical classes such as personal pronouns) depend on the complexity of the culture where the language is spoken” (p. 7).

Revere D. Perkins. 1992. Deixis, grammar, and culture (Typological Studies in Language 24). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Jan Rijkhoff
J. Rijkhoff - Associate Professor
Linguistics, Aarhus University
Jens Chr. Skous Vej 2, Building 1485-621
DK-8000 Aarhus C, DENMARK
Phone: (+45) 87162143
E-mail: linjr at cc.au.dk<mailto:linjr at cc.au.dk>
URL: http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/linjr@cc.au.dk

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Claire Bowern <clairebowern at gmail.com>
Date: Tuesday, 2 October 2018 at 15.25
To: Eitan Grossman <eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il>
Cc: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>, "josephdbrooks at ucsb.edu" <josephdbrooks at ucsb.edu>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Temporal features?

A further method is to sample densely in unrelated areas that include both hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists, as colleagues and I did for our hunter-gatherer languages project. See, for example

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0025195 [loan patterns: hunter-gatherers aren't that different]
https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/lity.2012.16.issue-1/lity-2012-0002/lity-2012-0002.xml [numeral complexity: it's complicated]
http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2993/0278-0771-34.2.195 [ethnobiological nomenclature: hunter-gatherers are variable]
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2215039014000022 [Wanderwörter: it's complicated]
http://www.pnas.org/content/113/48/13666.short [color in Pama-Nyungan, a large family of hunter-gatherers; color nomenclature is variable]

I also wrote a survey paper of the issues:

Though I'm not sure we ever said this explicitly in this project, the overall impression I got from coding and analyzing all this data was that the sample of hunter-gatherers was more variable than intensive agriculturalists, but not necessarily more so than small-scale agriculturalists. Certainly none of the claims that hunter-gatherer languages share features as a group distinct from agriculturalists is impossible to maintain.



Claire Bowern
Professor, Director of Graduate Studies
Chair: Yale Women Faculty Forum (wff.yale.edu<http://wff.yale.edu/>)
Department of Linguistics
New Haven, CT  06511

On Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 12:24 AM Eitan Grossman <eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il<mailto:eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il>> wrote:
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<mailto:randy.lapolla at gmail.com>> wrote:
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 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
Most recent book:

On 2 Oct 2018, at 2:52 AM, Marianne Mithun <mithun at linguistics.ucsb.edu<mailto: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.


On Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 11:03 AM Heath Jeffrey <schweinehaxen at hotmail.com<mailto: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<mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> on behalf of David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>>
Sent: Monday, October 1, 2018 12:18 PM
To: Martin Kohlberger
Cc: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>; josephdbrooks at ucsb.edu<mailto: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<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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