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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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Degrees of complexity in syntax: a view from evolution

Degrees of complexity in syntax: a view from evolution

(p.83) 5 Degrees of complexity in syntax: a view from evolution
Measuring Grammatical Complexity

Ljiljana Progovac

Oxford University Press

In stark contrast to the mainstream Chomskyan view, this chapter argues that there is ample room for a syntactic system with only short (and flat) sentences, both in language evolution and in present-day languages. Assuming a minimalist view of language, it is argued that (root) small clauses, as well as (absolutive) intransitives, are measurably simpler precursors to TPs and transitive vP/VP shells, the former serving as foundation for the latter. Transitivity is thus an evolutionary innovation, facilitated by intermediate steps, such as ‘middles’. The living fossils of the absolutive-like stage in nom-acc languages include unaccusatives, nominals, se-constructions, and VN exocentric compounds. Under this approach it is conceivable that some languages make predominant or sole use of simpler, but coherent, small clause grammars, or absolutive-based grammars. Acknowledging and characterizing variability in syntax is necessary in order to engage fields such as evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

Keywords:   absolutives, grammatical complexity, language evolution, middle voice, Minimalist Program, neurolinguistics, nominals, reflexives, unaccusatives, VP shells

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