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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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Cross-linguistic comparison of complexity measures in phonological systems

Cross-linguistic comparison of complexity measures in phonological systems

(p.217) 11 Cross-linguistic comparison of complexity measures in phonological systems
Measuring Grammatical Complexity

Steven Moran

Damián Blasi

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores from a typological perspective several absolute measures that have been used to quantify complexity of phonological systems. Most research in this area relies on claims about statistical aspects of datasets, particularly parameterization of distributions and the direction of correlations between pairs of variables. The chapter revisits these claims in compiling datasets from the largest phonological databases available and implements a novel approach that uses the minimal number of distinctive features needed to encode each language’s segment inventory. The conclusion is that both strategies, parameterization and correlations between variables, are problematic. To date no universal and salient trend regarding the complexity of phonological systems can be established.

Keywords:   complexity trade-offs, distinctive features, grammatical complexity, language change, language typology, parameterization of distributions, phonology, segment inventory, statistical analysis, syllable

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