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Auteur: Andriy DANYLENKO

Language Change: Complexification or Simplification?

Abstract/Résumé: Trudgill (2011: 62, 146) argues that the “natural tendency” for languages is to accrue more complexity, not to simplify. According to him, linguistic complexification consisting of such sub-processes as irregularization, opacity, syntagmatic redundancy, and addition of morphological categories is likely to occur in communities with the following societal factors: (1) low amounts of adult language contact, (2) high social stability, (3) small size, (4) dense social networks, (5) large amounts of commonly shared information. Trudgill’s metric for measuring complexification is not fully convincing. First, what seems simplex for an inflecting language system can be viewed as complex for an ergative language system, e.g., the ergative marking as compared with the inflectional noun morphology. Second, a different constellation of the societal factors may favor complexity-development likewise. For instance, with an increase of its speech community and decrease of shared background information, Balto-Slavic has undergone several stages of complexification (synthetism). Third, levels of complexification vs. simplification are measured primarily sociolinguistically and not typologically. However, all other societal factors being equal, Romance and Germanic demonstrate an increase in simplification (analytism) at the cost of inflecting technique. Whether a change constitutes simplification or complexification, one has, first, to trace it genetically back the point of its engenderment. Second, its ‘maturation’ (Dahl) should be gauged typologically in accordance with the language’s internal ‘developmental cline’. Finally, a change can lead to an areal convergence that ideally admits both expression-oriented (replacive and additive) ‘borrowings’ and content-oriented replication. Complexification vis. simplification is ultimately contingent on a resulting configuration of societal factors in the ‘external determinant’. The latter preconditions the shaping of a particular ‘internal determinant’ defined as a principal feature optimizing the whole system of a particular language (Mel’nikov 2003: 57). Due to changes in the internal determinant, the language can either simplify or accrue complexity as is the case of development from incorporation through ergativity to nominativity. Contrary to the societal factors as defined by Trudgill, nominativity is typical of the inflecting languages used in (1) ever-increasing (2) socially stable (3) homogeneous communities with (4) longer language transmission intervals in space (Mel’nikov 2003: 141). References Mel’nikov, G. P. 2003. Sistemnaja tipologija jazykov. Moskva: Nauka. Trudgill, Peter. 2011. Sociolinguistic Typology. Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.