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Language complexity

Language complexity is a topic in linguistics which can be divided into several sub-topics such as phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic complexity. The subject also carries importance for language evolution. Although the concept of language complexity is an old one, the current interest has largely emerged since the beginning of the 21st century as it was previously considered problematic in terms of political correctness.

Language complexity has been studied less than many other traditional fields of linguistics. While the consensus is turning towards recognizing that complexity is a suitable research area, a central focus has been on methodological choices. Some languages, particularly pidgins and creoles, are considered simpler than most other languages, but there is no direct ranking, and no universal method of measurement although several possibilities are now proposed within different schools of analysis.

Throughout the 19th century, differential complexity was taken for granted. The classical languages Latin and Greek, as well as Sanskrit, were considered to possess qualities which could be achieved by the rising European national languages only through an elaboration that would give them the necessary structural and lexical complexity that would meet the requirements of an advanced civilization. At the same time, languages described as 'primitive' were naturally considered to reflect the simplicity of their speakers. On the other hand, Friedrich Schlegel noted that some nations "which appear to be at the very lowest grade of intellectual culture", such as Basque, Sámi and some native American languages, possess a striking degree of elaborateness.

Tolomako vowels
close i u
mid e o
open a
Sakao vowels (partial)
close i y u
close mid e ø o
open mid ɛ œ ɔ
open a ɒ
In addition, Sakao has a close vowel /ɨ/ that is unspecified for being rounded or unrounded, front or back, and is always unstressed. It also has the two diphthongs /œɛ, ɒɔ/, whereas Tolomako has none.
Tolomako consonants
labial alveolar velar
nasal m n
plosive p t k
affricate ts
fricative β ɣ
trill r
approximant l
Sakao consonants
labial alveolar palatal velar glottal
nasal m n ŋ
plosive p t k
fricative β ð ɣ h
trill r
voiceless trill
approximant w l j
In addition, Sakao consonants may be long or short: /œβe/ "drum", /œββe/ "bed"
Tolomako syllable structure
Sakao syllable structure
V (a vowel or diphthong) surrounded by any number of consonants:
V /i/ "thou", CCVCCCC (?) /mhɛrtpr/ "having sung and stopped singing thou kept silent"
[m- 2nd pers., hɛrt "to sing", -p perfective, -r continuous].
Tolomako Sakao English
na tsiɣo-ku œsɨŋœ-ɣ "my mouth"
na tsiɣo-mu œsɨŋœ-m "thy mouth"
na tsiɣo-na ɔsɨŋɔ-n "his/her/its mouth"
na tsiɣo-... œsœŋ-... "...'s mouth"
Tolomako Sakao English
na βulu-ku uly-ɣ "my hair"
na βulu-mu uly-m "thy hair"
na βulu-na ulœ-n "his/her/its hair"
na βulu-... nøl-... "...'s hair"
mo losi na poe ne na matsa
S/he hits ART pig PREP ART club
"He hits (kills) the pig with a club"
mɨ-jil-ɨn a-ra a-mas
S/he-hits-TRANS ART-pig ART-club
"He hits (kills) the pig with a club"



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