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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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Complexity trade-offs: a case study

Complexity trade-offs: a case study

(p.179) 9 Complexity trade-offs: a case study
Measuring Grammatical Complexity

Kaius Sinnemäki

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents a cross-linguistic approach to measuring grammatical complexity and applies the method to one narrow test-case, namely, the marking of the basic participants of the sentence. Complexity is characterized as the length of the shortest description of a grammar. The chapter goes on to discuss three ways of examining complexity of case marking and rigid order, each related to a different way of describing grammar. Data from a stratified sample of 50 languages provides evidence that a complexity trade-off exists between case marking and rigid word order, but the strength of the correlation depends on the way the grammar is described. The conclusion is that the trade-off is best explained by processing preferences that minimize forms without affecting their distinctness.

Keywords:   case marking, complexity trade-offs, core argument marking, description length, grammatical complexity, linguistic typology, word order

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