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Social scale and structural complexity in human languages

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle


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The complexity of different components of the grammars of human languages can be quantified. For example, languages vary greatly in the size of their phonological inventories, and in the degree to which they make use of inflectional morphology. Recent studies have shown that there are relationships between these types of grammatical complexity and the number of speakers a language has. Languages spoken by large populations have been found to have larger phonological inventories, but simpler morphology, than languages spoken by small populations. The results require further investigation, and, most importantly, the mechanism whereby the social context of learning and use affects the grammatical evolution of a language needs elucidation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Society

Year: 2012

Volume: 367

Issue: 1597

Pages: 1829-1836

Print publication date: 01/07/2012

ISSN (print): 0962-8436

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2970

Publisher: ROYAL SOC


DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0216