Original Research ARTICLE
Language complexity in historical perspective: the enduring tropes of natural growth and abnormal contact
- 1University of Siegen, Germany
Focusing on the work of John McWhorter and, to a lesser extent, Peter Trudgill, this paper critically examines some common themes in language complexity research from the perspective of intellectual history. The present-day conception that increase in language complexity is somehow a ``natural'' process which is disturbed under the ``abnormal'' circumstances of language contact is shown to be a recapitulation of essentially Romantic ideas that go back to the beginnings of disciplinary linguistics. A similar genealogy is demonstrated for the related notion that grammatical complexity is a kind of ``ornament'' on language, surplus to the needs of ``basic communication''. The paper closes by examining the implications of these ideas for linguistic scholarship.
Keywords: language complexity, Language contact, Intellectual history, history of linguistics, Language classification, comparative- historical linguistics, Romanticism, German Idealism
Received: 26 Oct 2020;
Accepted: 18 Feb 2021.
Copyright: © 2021 McElvenny. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
* Correspondence: Dr. James McElvenny, University of Siegen, Siegen, Germany, firstname.lastname@example.org