Friday, February 1, 2019

Is Time the Relevant Factor?

The development of languages is nothing like biological evolution
by Allan K. Steel | This article is from
Journal of Creation 14(2):31–40—August 2000

I concur with the main thesis. Here is however one of the backing arguments, which I do not share.

A universally observed phenomenon of all language families is that inflexional morphology10 has simplified over time.

In some cases we see the opposite, as when Romance has a new future not yet there in Classic Latin which as a bonus side effect gives Romance also a conditional. Replacing also Latin's simple past future (except in passive) with future of auxiliary + past participle (as in passive only, but auxiliary "to be") has acted as a cue to similarily form a past conditional.

Now, while overall morphological categories have grown, I must admit those expressed in simple forms rather than compound ones has diminished.

However, morphological complexity growing is definitely possible - through no sound change, but "analogy" meaning intelligent input from the speakers.

Now, this put me to the task to ask whether morphological complexity growth is recognised by linguists.

I suppose the one example I gave is uncontroversial and it is at least one party of indo-europeanists who presume that the verbal systems of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, more complex than Hittite on some parameters (while Hittite shares a certain other parameter of complexity with Gaelic, preverbs), is also less old than Hittite. In other words, complexity grew - no doubt via "analogy" or intelligent input.

However, I wanted to check this. I came across quite another variable than time. And this for decreased complexity.

Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure
Gary Lupyan , Rick Dale | PLOS Published: January 20, 2010


Here is a discussion:

We conducted a statistical analysis of >2,000 languages using a combination of demographic sources and the World Atlas of Language Structures— a database of structural language properties. We found strong relationships between linguistic factors related to morphological complexity, and demographic/socio-historical factors such as the number of language users, geographic spread, and degree of language contact. The analyses suggest that languages spoken by large groups have simpler inflectional morphology than languages spoken by smaller groups as measured on a variety of factors such as case systems and complexity of conjugations. Additionally, languages spoken by large groups are much more likely to use lexical strategies in place of inflectional morphology to encode evidentiality, negation, aspect, and possession. Our findings indicate that just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used. As adults learn a language, features that are difficult for them to acquire, are less likely to be passed on to subsequent learners. Languages used for communication in large groups that include adult learners appear to have been subjected to such selection. Conversely, the morphological complexity common to languages used in small groups increases redundancy which may facilitate language learning by infants.

As what they discuss is "evolutionary pressure" which doesn't per se cause morphological complexity of the biological type, it would on evolutionary theory need mutations, which are not apt to provide them, and in human language, intelligent input is apt to so provide them, this should not be controversial among us Creationists.

The points to make historically in favour of this are:

  • English simplified to about modern (or even less) morphological complexity over contact with Danish and probably also over contact with Norman French.
  • French made a simplification after the Crusades increased trade (Middle French unlike Old French has reduced two case system to one case system).
  • English, French have arguably been less isolated than Germans less than Poles, Russians, Icelanders (certainly Swedes were less isolated than Icelanders and the most trade communicational dialects of North Germany have made simplifications reminiscent of Scandinavia).
  • Hittites were once more central than Greeks or speakers of Sanskrit.
  • Esquimeaux and Amerindian languages were definitely more isolated than Europeans, and baffle by the morphological complexity.

This obviously in no way presents an obstacle to either God at Tower of Babel creating several languages independently, nor to Indo-European as per my pet theory going back to more than one rather than to just one. The other day I saw stats suggesting to me (I can have misunderstood them) that the lexical similarity between Arabic and Persian (clearly unrelated "genetically") is greater than between English and Russian, while Balkan shows also non-lexical mutual influences occurring, like a tendency to replace infinitive with subsidiary clauses or a tendency to conflate Genitive and Dative (as in Greek nouns and as in the Romanian definite forms of nouns, see table below my signature).

However, this would pose one constraint on my theory of early mutual grammar borrowings in Indo-European languages. It would have had to be in simple and not very cosmopolitan societies. Possibly excepting pre-verbs in Hittite and Gaelic (unless both start out a dialects of Gomer's language after Babel). Otherwise the mutual influence would have tended to simplification, not to complex grammars.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St. Ignatius of Antioch

  Neo-Grk  Roman.
Nom  άνθρωπος  băiatul
Gen/Dat  ανθρώπου  băiatului
Acc  άνθρωπο  băiatul (=Nom)
Voc (Sg)  άνθρωπε  băiatule
Nom Pl  άνθρωποι  băieții
Gen/Dat Pl  ανθρώπων  băieților
Acc Pl  ανθρώπους  băieții (=Nom)
[Voc Pl=]  = Nom Pl  = Gen/Dat Pl

As to chosen masculine words, (o) άνθρωπος means (the) person, and băiatul means the boy. Romanian shares with Greek and Slavonic languages a three gender system, like Latin and unlike other Romance languages.

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