Grammatical Complexity Reflects Sociopolitical Complexity


This paper presents empirical evidence in support of the claim that complexity in various domains of grammar is driven by the complexity of the sociopolitical structures of the communities in which the languages are spoken.

Part one of the paper provides a grammatical sketch of the colloquial Riau dialect of Indonesian, showing how it is simpler than Standard Average European languages in three core domains of grammar, word structure, syntactic category inventories and compositional semantics.  Riau Indonesian thus comes close to instantiating the prototype of Isolating-Monocategorial-Associational (IMA) language.

Part two of the paper presents the results of a large-scale cross-linguistic experiment designed to measure the complexity of semantic compositionality, and in particular, the degree to which thematic roles are grammaticalized through various coding strategies such as word order and flagging (case marking or adpositions).  The results of the experiment, run on 69 geographically, genealogically and sociolinguistically diverse languages, reveal a strongly significant positive correlation between sociopolitical complexity and the complexity of thematic role grammaticalization.

Part three of the paper places the above results within a broader perspective of an ongoing typological study examining the linguistic profiles of languages spoken in exoteric and esoteric societies.  Preliminary findings suggest that whereas exoteric societies are conducive to greater complexity in various domains of syntax, esoteric societies tend to be associated with languages of increased morphological complexity.

David Gil har siden 2015 været tilknyttet Max Planck Instituttet for Historievidenskab i Jena, og i 1998-2015 Max Planck Instituttet for Evolutionær Antropologi i Leipzig. I forbindelse med sidstnævnte ansættelse etablerede og ledte han institutionens feltstation i Jakarta. Han har siden etableret endnu en feltstation på en af Bandaøerne i det vestlige Papua. Han er en af verdens førende eksperter i malajiske sprog. Blandt hans talrige udgivelser er World atlas of language structures (2005), Language complexity as an evolving variable (2009) og Austronesian undressed: How and why languages become isolating (2020).