Course: Morphological Complexity and Typology

Times: 1:30 - 5pm

Dates: Thursday and Friday, 5 - 6 December 2019

Instructor: Professor Marianne Mithun, University of California (Santa Barbara)

Registration: Please register here for Summer School 2019



One  of  the  ways  in  which  languages can appearto  differ  the  most is in  their  morphological structures,  often  described  in  terms  of degrees  of  complexityon  the  one  hand, and the particulardistinctions  facilitated  or  required  by  the grammaron  the  other. But measuring complexity  is far from straight forward. And the kinds of cross-linguistic differences we find in the meanings encoded and the forms that convey them raise intriguing questions about the reasons behind them.

Assumed and background knowledge

Familiarity with basic linguistics concepts, particularly basic morphology.


No additional preparation necessary.

Course topics

1. Where is morphological complexity?

  • Various notions of complexity and its measurement
  • Complexity for whom? Analysts versus speakers

2. Morphological typologies

  • What is typology in linguistics and what are its goals?
  • Traditional morphological typologies
  • The status of polysynthesis as a typological category

3. The development of morphological complexity through time

  • Typology and telicity 
  • Cognitive and social factors stimulating the development of complexity
  • Alternative pathways to complexity

4. The development of morphological complexity through space

  • Contact as a factor in decreasing or increasing complexity
  • The diverse effects of multilingualism

5. Implications of morphological complexity beyond the word

  • Relations between morphological and syntactic structure
  • Some pathways to the development of complex clause combining

6. Typological sophistication and documentation

  • Advantages of typological knowledge for recognising categories and patterns 
  • Disadvantages of jumping to conclusions on the basis of pre-cooked notions!


[Main image: English words organized by alphabetical similarity (edit distance), by Kyle McDonald on Flickr].

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