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Measuring Grammatical Complexity$
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Frederick J. Newmeyer and Laurel B. Preston

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199685301

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199685301.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Measuring Grammatical Complexity
Frederick J. Newmeyer, Laurel B. Preston
Oxford University Press

This chapter begins by noting that despite the fact that it would never occur to the average layperson that all languages are equally complex, such has been the majority opinion of most linguists for almost a century. Three independent currents converged in support of the hypothesis of equal complexity. The first is the humanistic doctrine that since all human groups are in a fundamental sense ‘equal’, their languages must be ‘equal’ too. The second is the idea that in order to keep languages useable, complexity in one part of the grammar is necessarily ‘balanced out’ by simplicity in another part of the grammar—this is sometimes called the ‘trade-off hypothesis’. The third derives from the belief that universal grammar does not allow for significant variations of complexity. Special attention is paid to the relevance of creole languages, the debate about recursion, and the theory of parameters.

Keywords:   creoles, grammatical complexity, history of linguistics, humanistic approaches, parameters, recursion, trade-off hypothesis, universal grammar

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