My native language is English, but it seems that more inflected languages are widly more complex. Does every language really have equally complex grammar?

By: | Post date: 2017-02-15 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Drop everything you are doing, and upvote Joachim Pense. Vote #1 Joachim Pense’s answer to My native language is English, but it seems that more inflected languages are widly more complex. Does every language really have equally complex grammar?

There are some bad answers here, and some good answers here. There’s a progression of sophistication that needs to be invoked.

  • THESIS: Knuckledragger argument: Savages speak primitive languages, because they are savages, and they don’t have the sophistication to know any better.
  • Reactive linguist argument: Savages have some pretty damn sophisticated languages. And we do not believe that they are lesser human beings than us.
  • ANTITHESIS: Every language must be equally complex, because all humans have equal mental capacity.
  • Supporting argument: Um… sure, language A has the most complex inflectional morphology in existence, and language B has no morphology at all. But have you seen the syntactic hurdles language B has put up, to make any sense at all? Language A doesn’t even have any syntax! So it must all balance out.
  • Supporting argument: it’s pretty damn hard to quantify complexity in incommensurate parameters of language, such as morphology and syntax. Phew. So we can get away with saying languages are equally complex.
  • Opposing argument: A Turing machine can work out an algorithm to generate language. That complexity is not as unquantifiable as you might think.
  • Opposing argument: That Antithesis is not an argument, it’s a statement of faith. Of course, the original Thesis wasn’t even that, it was just uninformed racism.
  • SYNTHESIS: some languages are likely going to be less complex overall than others, particularly if there has been creolisation in their past. Afrikaans is a good example. That depends on your metric for complexity across the various aspects of language, but that metric is not impossible to arrive it.
  • That said, the fact that Afrikaans or, well, English is likely less complex overall than Latin or Finnish or Lakota in no way means that Afrikaaners or English people are mentally deficient compared to Finns or the Teton Sioux.

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