Chung wrote:The first one was easier to chew on since seeing how an academic who prides himself on his brains could then utter "The grammar of Bulgarian is objectively simpler than that of any of the others, and to me it is the only one that had the feel of being a Russian dialect, whereas the others seemed like distinct languages." No linguist (especially a descriptivist one or a Slavicist) could let this one get by.
OK, I'm drifting a little off track (and we can move this to a new subthread if people want to talk about it at length), but did he explain how he was measuring grammatical complexity "objectively"?
A bit of digging reveals some recent work in this area, some of which looks interesting:
- Language Complexity, ed. Miestamo, Sinnemäki, Karlsson. A collection of pretty interesting-looking papers.
- Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable, ed. Sampson, Gil, Trudgill.
- Measuring Grammatical Complexity, ed. Newmeyer, Preston.
- Fairly simple inflection.
- About 200 or so common irregular verbs, according to various sources.
- A substantial amount of phrase-level complexity. (There's enough that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language runs to 1,800 pages, and that's really just an overview of research on English grammar.)
One of the reviews above quotes the linguist Matti Miestamo, who argues that linguists should focus on local complexity measurement for simplicity:
Matti Miestamo (''Grammatical complexity in a cross-linguistic perspective'', pp. 23-41) also addresses the issue of ''absolute'' vs. ''relative'' complexity, and argues, contrary to Kusters, that ''complexity should be approached from the absolute point of view in cross-linguistic studies'' (p. 28). Another important question raised by Miestamo concerns the problems with assessing the ''global'' complexity of a language. He argues that given the fact that the metrics of global complexity cannot be fully representative of the linguistic data, and that their outcomes cannot be fully comparable because different criteria may give conflicting results, ''the cross-linguistic study of grammatical complexity should primarily focus on specific areas of grammar, i.e., on local complexity'' (p. 31).
Now, outside of linguistics, complexity measurement is a fairly well-developed field (Wikipedia has a decent starting point.) But I'm having trouble imagining what a mathematically rigorous measurement of grammatical complexity would actually look like. Has anybody read any of the books reviewed above? Do any of the reviewed papers seem especially promising? I admit, the whole topic does look like a bit of swamp to me: murky and treacherous.