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Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.638659

Syllable complexity and morphological synthesis: A well-motivated positive complexity correlation across subdomains Provisionally accepted The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon. Notify me

  • 1University of Hawaii, United States
  • 2UMR5596 Dynamique du Langage, France
  • 3Lumière University Lyon 2, France
  • 4Leibniz Center for General Linguistics (ZAS), Germany

Relationships between phonological and morphological complexity have long been proposed in the linguistic literature, with empirical investigations often seeking complexity trade-offs. Positive complexity correlations tend not to be viewed in terms of motivations. We argue that positive complexity correlations can be diachronically well-motivated, emerging from crosslinguistically prevalent processes of language change. We examine the correlation between syllable complexity and morphological synthesis, hypothesizing that the process of grammaticalization motivates a positive relationship between the two features. To test this, we conduct a typological survey of 95 diverse languages and a corpus study of 21 languages with substantive (predominantly >10,000 words) corpora from the DoReCo project. The first study establishes a significant positive correlation between syllable complexity, measured in terms of maximal syllable patterns, and the index of synthesis (morpheme/word ratio). The second study tests the hypothesis that the relationship between syllable complexity and synthesis holds at local (word-initial and word-final) levels and within noun and verb types, as predicted by a grammaticalization account. While the findings of the corpus study are limited in their statistical power, they are consistent with our predictions. This study contributes important findings to the complexity literature, as well as a novel method which incorporates broad typological sampling and deep corpus analysis.

Keywords: complexity correlations, Syllable structure, Morphological synthesis, grammaticalization, Language change, Linguistic typology, Corpus study

Received: 07 Dec 2020; Accepted: 10 Feb 2021.

Copyright: © 2021 Easterday, Stave, Allassonnière-Tang and Seifart. 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: Mx. Shelece Easterday, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, United States, shelece@hawaii.edu