Complexity trade-offs between the subsystems of language

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Starting from a view on language as a combinatorial and hierarchically organized system we assumed that a high syllable complexity would favour a high number of syllable types, which in turn would favour a high number of monosyllables. Relevant cross-linguistic correlations based on Menzerath’s (1954) data on monosyllables in eight Indo-European languages turned out to be statistically significant. A further attempt was made to conceptualize “semantic complexity” and to relate it to complexity in phonology, word formation, and word order. In English, for instance, the tendency to phonological complexity and monosyllabism is associated with a tendency to homonymy and polysemy, to rigid word order and idiomatic speech. The results are explained by complexity trade-offs between rather than within the subsystems of language.


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