Complexity and the age of languages

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This paper addresses the issue of complexity in language creation and the time it takes for ‘complex’ structures to emerge in the history of a language. The presence of morphological material is often equated to a certain degree of complexity or is taken to signify a certain time-depth in the history of a language (e.g. Dahl 2004; McWhorter 2005). Though this assumption may be seen as trivial in the absence of a theoretically-based definition of complexity (Muysken 1988), or even misleading (Aboh and Ansaldo 2007; Farquharson 2007), we here put it to a test by looking at morphology in a relatively ‘young’ language, namely Sri Lanka Malay (SLM). SLM is a mixed language which shows considerably more morphological material and other signs of old age than ‘prototypical’ creoles. We explain this by arguing (a) that structural output in language genesis is closely motivated by the typology of the input languages and (b) that our understanding of rate of change needs to be revised to take into account ecological matters.


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