Can One Language be 'More Complex' Than Another?

For many decades, the received wisdom in the field of linguistics was that languages could not differ in terms of their overall complexity. As Fromkin and Rodman put it their celebrated textbook: ''All languages are equally complex and equally capable of expressing any idea in the universe.'' The equal complexity hypothesis has been challenged recently, most notably in two compilations of papers edited by Miestamo, Sinnemäki, and Karlsson (2008) and Sampson, Gil, and Trudgill (2009). Most of the authors in these volumes look at language from a typological-functional perspective. The interesting question for us is whether formal linguistics (broadly defined, and encompassing formal approaches to processing) has anything to contribute to the debate. One can imagine a wide range of positions. For example, one might take the view that it follows from the nature of UG that all languages are necessarily equally complex. Or one might hypothesize that UG places no limits whatever on differential complexity.

This workshop was devoted to whether there are complexity differences among the world's languages and to whether it is a reasonable task to attempt to devise a metric by which relative complexity might be computed.

We invite you to visit the Program page to view the presentation schedule.

The abstracts and available handouts/slides for the talks are posted on the Abstracts page.

Invited Speakers:

Peter Culicover, Ohio State University
John A. Hawkins, UC Davis and University of Cambridge
Lisa Matthewson, University of British Columbia
Andrea Moro, Institute of Advanced Study, Pavia
Ljiljana Progovac, Wayne State University
Fermín Moscoso del Prado Martín, CNRS (Marseille/Lyon)

Conference Organizer: Frederick J. Newmeyer
Local Organizer: Laurel Preston

University of Washington Department of Linguistics, Box 354340 Seattle, WA 98195-4340    Phone: (206) 543-2046    Email: