Assessing linguistic complexity

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The question of “linguistic complexity” is interesting and fruitful. Unfortunately, the intuitive meaning of “complexity” is not amenable to formal analysis. This paper discusses some proposed definitions and shows how complexity can be assessed in various frameworks. The results show that, as expected, languages are all about equally “complex,” but further that languages can and do differ reliably in their morphological and syntactic complexities along an intuitive continuum. I focus not only on the mathematical aspects of complexity, but on the psychological ones as well. Any claim about “complexity” is inherently about process, including an implicit description of the underlying cognitive machinery. By comparing different measures, one may better understand human language processing and similarly, understanding psycholinguistics may drive better measures.


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