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How complex are isolating languages?

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Abstract

How complex are isolating languages? The <i>Compensation Hypothesis </i>suggests that isolating languages make up for simpler morphology with greater complexity in other domains, such as syntax and semantics. This paper provides detailed argumentation against the Compensation Hypothesis. A cross-linguistic experiment measuring the complexity of compositional semantics shows that isolating languages rely more heavily on simple <i>Associational Semantics</i>, in which the interpretation of a combined expression is maximally vague or underdifferentiated, anything having to do with the interpretations of the constituent parts. In addition, it is argued that such vagueness is not necessarily resolved via recourse to context and a more complex pragmatics. Thus, it is concluded that isolating languages may indeed be of greater overall simplicity that their non-isolating counterparts.

References

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