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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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The measurement of semantic complexity: how to get by if your language lacks generalized quantifiers

The measurement of semantic complexity: how to get by if your language lacks generalized quantifiers

Chapter:
(p.241) 12 The measurement of semantic complexity: how to get by if your language lacks generalized quantifiers
Source:
Measuring Grammatical Complexity
Author(s):

Lisa Matthewson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199685301.003.0012

This chapter addresses the question of whether languages vary in their semantic complexity, through a comparison between English and St’át’imcets. Following Henry Davis, it argues that these languages differ in the semantics of their quantifier-like elements: St’át’imcets lacks generalized quantifiers. After considering formal complexity, paradigm complexity, and expressive complexity, the chapter argues that the St’át’imcets has a less complex quantificational system than English. Finally, it presents a language-wide comparison, assessing the languages’ semantic complexity in a range of areas. Overall, the competition is a tie; each language balances complexity in some areas with simplicity in others. While such balancing makes functional sense, the chapter argues that Universal Grammar cannot prevent languages from differing in overall complexity. Universal Grammar does not even prevent differences in effability: some languages can express meanings which other languages cannot. This claim is supported by the English/St’át’imcets comparison, as the languages display effability differences.

Keywords:   effability, generalized quantifiers, grammatical complexity, inference, language typology, quantifiers, scope, semantics, St’át’imcets, universal grammar

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