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Linguistic complexity in interlanguage varieties, L2 varieties, and contact languages

Wann 21.05.2009 um 09:00 bis
22.05.2009 um 18:00
Wo Albertstr. 19, Seminarraum
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Workshop on "Linguistic complexity in interlanguage varieties, L2 varieties, and contact languages"


Organized by Bernd Kortmann & Benedikt Szmrecsanyi

May 21 -- May 22, 2009

Recent scholarship has challenged the assumption that all human languages are equally complex. The bulk of research in this vein -- consider a special issue of Linguistic Typology (2001/5) devoted to this issue -- has investigated complexity differentials between 'old' L1 languages (English, French , ...) and 'young' L1 languages (i.e. creole languages). This workshop seeks to provide a forum to discuss research exploring morpho-syntactic complexity not only in pidgin and creole languages, but also in interlanguage varieties (e.g. French learner English) and indigenized, non-native L2 varieties (e.g. Hong Kong English). Key questions to be addressed in papers will include the following: how can the analyst adequately assess complexity in languages such as the above? Should we be interested in absolute complexity, also known as "more is more complex" complexity (Arends (2001: 180), or rather in relative complexity (cf. Miestamo 2008), such as processing complexity or L2-acquisition difficulty? What is the extent to which language contact and/or (adult) language learning might lead to morphosyntactic simplification?

Arends, J. (2001). "Simple grammars, complex languages". Linguistic Typology 5: 180-2.

Miestamo, M. (2008). "Grammatical complexity in a cross-linguistic perspective". In Miestamo, M., K. Sinnemäki & F. Karlsson, eds. Language Complexity: Typology, Contact, Change. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Szmrecsanyi, B. & B. Kortmann (to appear b). "Between simplification and complexification: Non-standard varieties of English around the world." In Sampson, G., D. Gil & P. Trudgill, eds. Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




19:00        workshop warm-up (Hausbrauerei Feierling, Gerberau 46)


10:00     welcome

10:15     Bernd Kortmann & Benedikt Szmrecsanyi, "Introduction: grammatical complexity in varieties of English and English-based pidgins and creoles around the world"

11:30     lunch break (Paradies, Mathildenstr. 28)

13:30     Diane Larsen-Freeman, "The dynamics of morphosyntactic complexity"
14:15     Lourdes Ortega, "Interlanguage complexity: a construct in search for theoretical renewal"
15:00     BREAK
15:30     ZhaoHong Han, "A fossilization perspective on morphosyntactic complexity in Second Language Acquisition"
16:15     Terence Odlin, "Nothing will come of nothing"
17:00     BREAK
17:15     General Discussion

20:00     workshop dinner (Greifenegg-Schlössle)


9:30      Magnus Huber, "Morphosyntactic complexity in British and Ghanaian English. A corpus linguistic comparison of written and spoken texts types"
10:15     Rajend Mesthrie, "Antideletions and complexity theory, with special reference to Black South African English"
11:00     BREAK
11:30     Maria Steger & Edgar Schneider, "Complexity as a function of iconicity: the case of complement clause constructions in New Englishes"
12:15     General Discussion

13:00     lunch break (Quadrille, Bertoldstraße 46)

15:00     Susanne Michaelis & Magnus Huber, "The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures (APiCS)"
15:45     Peter Mühlhäusler, "The complexity of the personal and possessive pronoun system of Norf'k"
16:30     BREAK
17:00     Jeff Siegel, "Accounting for analyticity in creoles"
17:45     General Discussion

20:00    drinks and dinner for those who are staying in Freiburg
(location t.b.a.)



The dynamics of morphosyntactic complexity
Diane Larsen-Freeman

Although morphosyntactic complexity has been central to second language acquisition since the inception of the field, the way that complexity has been conceived and measured has changed over the years. Early on, complexity was measured by the degree to which second language learners supplied English grammatical morphemes in obligatory contexts both in their speech and writing. One of the drawbacks to this way of measuring complexity was that it ignored meaningful target-like use. that is, if a learner used a morpheme where it did not belong, this did not detract from the learner’s score. This inadequacy was subsequently addressed through a more appropriate TLU (target-like use) measure.
A second area that morphosyntactic complexity has played a role in second language acquisition is in the hunt for an elusive second language acquisition index of development. Since we cannot avail ourselves of the MLU (mean length of utterance) measure that first language acquisition researchers use, we have had no developmental yardstick by which to compare learners. The best measures of complexity that resulted from this quest have been those that chart L2 development using measures of length, such as the average number of words per T-unit or clause. A problem here, though, is that measures that work for groups, often fail at the level of the individual, where nonlinearity is normal.
Most recently, complexity has again surfaced in second language acquisition research, this time in the context of measuring improvement in performance on language tasks. Measures of morphosyntactic complexity have been accompanied by measures of lexical complexity, accuracy, and fluency. While this has led to a more complete profile of a second language learner, we have also seen how the different dimensions interact over time and how the nature of their interaction changes in the dynamics of language learning and use.

Interlanguage complexity: a construct in search for theoretical renewal
Lourdes Ortega

Structural complexity, including complexity of morphology and syntax, has always been a central part of interlanguage investigations. At an applied level, the complexity of learner language demands appropriate measurement for purposes such as predicting L2 proficiency (e.g., Ortega, 2003) and documenting the psycholinguistic benefits and drawbacks of systematically manipulating specific conditions of language production as a means to aid instructed L2 acquisition (e.g., Skehan, 2003). At a theoretical level, interlanguage complexity is believed to be a key construct in any explanation of the multi-componential nature of L2 development over time (e.g., Ellis & Barkhuizen, 2005; Norris & Ortega, 2009). The study of interlanguage development, however, is undergoing recent transformations under the pressures of critiques against the monolingual bias that has dominated earlier research (Cook, 2008; Klein, 1998) and fueled by usage-based theories of language development which question many tenets of traditional linguistic analysis, such as the separation between lexicon and grammar (Robinson & Ellis, 2008). In this presentation, I concentrate on the theoretical content of the construct of L2 syntactic complexity, with the goal to explore challenges and potential new roles for studying complexity under the scope of these recent disciplinary developments. Using L2 written and oral data as illustrations, I will explore three interrelated questions:
•    How can we conceptualize L2 complexity, when complexification must be assumed to be simultaneously systematic, non-linear, and un-evenly paced, and when it must be captured as it deploys across nested systems and subsystems of language for which traditional analytical boundaries are being questioned?
•    How can complexification be understood at incipient levels of L2 development, prior to the onset of grammaticalization and the deployment of productive morphology and syntax?
•    How can we investigate complexity and complexification without the theoretically stifling reference to a monolingual native speaker idealized norm?

Cook, V. (2008). Multi-competence: Black hole or wormhole for second language acquisition research? In Z. Han (Ed.), Understanding second language process (pp. 16-26). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Ellis, R., & Barkhuizen, G. (2005). Analyzing learner language. New York: Oxford University Press.
Klein, W. (1998). The contribution of second language acquisition research. Language Learning, 48, 527-550.
Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2009). Measurement for understanding: An organic approach to investigating complexity, accuracy, and fluency in SLA. Applied Linguistics, 30(4). [Special Issue on Fluency, accuracy and complexity in second language acquisition: Theoretical and methodological perspectives, co-edited by Alex Housen & Folkert Kuiken.]
Ortega, L. (2003). Syntactic complexity measures and their relationship to L2 proficiency: A research synthesis of college-level L2 writing. Applied Linguistics, 24, 492-518.
Robinson, P., & Ellis, N. C. (2008). Conclusion: Cognitive linguistics, second language acquisition and instruction: Issues for research. In P. Robinson & N. C. Ellis (Eds.), Handbook of cognitive linguistics and second language acquisition (pp. 489-545). New York: Routledge.
Skehan, P. (2003). Task based instruction. Language Teaching, 36, 1-14.

A fossilization perspective on morphosyntactic complexity in Second Language Acquisition
ZhaoHong Han

SLA research on fossilization and/or similar constructs (such as near-natives, ultimate attainment) over the past several decades has succeeded in isolating a number of L2 morphosyntactic structures that do not seem learnable for some or all learners. After a brief overview of this body of research, the paper zeros in on four such structures in English, namely, passives, unaccusatives, articles, and plurals, and offers an in-depth analysis of their complexity, backed up by evidence from a 12-year longitudinal case study. The paper argues the following:

(a)    that complexity, in the context of second language acquisition, is relative rather than absolute;
(b)    that it arises primarily from NL-based conceptual interference;
(c)    that such influence tends to operate at the interface of the Conceptualizer and the Formulator (Levelt, 1989);
(d)     that complexity is predictable from analyses of L1 markedness and L2 input robustness (Han, in press); and
(e)    that a  valid conclusion on complexity can only be drawn if there is longitudinal evidence to support it.

Nothing will come of nothing
Terence Odlin

Accounts of language contact and second language acquisition (SLA) have long invoked notions of simplification to explain various behaviors found in bilingual or multilingual situations. Sometimes the notion of simplification invoked is defined (e.g., Meisel 1983) and sometimes it is more tacit. Whatever approach is taken to simplification, however, there remains the task of relating that approach to the question of what role the native language (or some other previously acquired language) may play in SLA. The relation between the influence of such languages (the influence often called language transfer) and simplification remains a problematic issue. Part of the problem is terminological: transfer is a metaphorical cover term for a diverse range of behaviors, and simplification has, as suggested, its own ambiguities. Yet despite the difficulties of terminology, there is one certainty: what counts as transfer sometimes overlaps with what counts as simplification. The evidence for this assertion comes from a variety of sources including comparisons of the English of native speakers of Finnish and native speakers of Swedish. Among the former group but not the latter, zero articles are quite common in a study by Jarvis (2002), e.g., Old woman say to baker: Girl take it, not man, where every NP has no article. Zero prepositions are likewise common among Finnish, but not Swedish, speakers as in C.C. [Charlie Chaplin] and the woman go to sit the grass, where the predicate sit he grass has no preposition (Jarvis and Odlin 2000). While the comparative methodology allows for credible identifications of transfer, the kinds of “simplification” evident in zero articles and zero prepositions are not exactly the same. In this paper some typological facts about Finnish will be considered to distinguish the kinds of simplification just noted but also to explore possible cognitive implications of the distinction.

Morphosyntactic complexity in British and Ghanaian English. A corpus linguistic comparison of written and spoken texts types
Magnus Huber

It is generally accepted that there is a complexity cline between spoken language – which because of its online nature is said to be less complex – and written language. In the same vein, informal text types are said to be less complex than formal ones. Starting from these observations, the overall aim of this paper is to investigate how an L2 (outer circle) variety of English transforms and nativises the range of morphosyntactic complexity in different text types of the historical input variety (L1, inner circle), with which the L2 continues to be in contact and which is still norm-providing to a certain extent.
The varieties examined in the present study are Ghanaian English (L2) and its input/norm British English (L1), as documented by the respective components of the International Corpus of English (ICE-Ghana is still being compiled by the author, but most of the written and some of the spoken texts are already available).
I will start out with a discussion and delimitation of the concept of complexity and adopt a variationist, corpus linguistic approach to study variables where British English has both a synthetic (arguably more complex in that it increases receiver effort) and an analytical way (less complex) of encoding the same grammatical concept, such as the genitive, adjective comparison, non-subject relativization and – somewhat analogous – negative/auxiliary contraction. Note that, even if one does not agree that a synthetic structure is per se more complex than its analytical counterpart, a variety that has two or more formally different but functionally equivalent structures can be seen as potentially more complex than a variety that only has one structure at its disposition. From this perspective, it will be interesting to see in what way Ghanaian English deviates from its target norm in preferring analytical over synthetic structures, or vice versa, and in the way morphosyntactic complexity is distributed in different text types.

Antideletions and complexity theory, with special reference to Black South African English
Rajend Mesthrie

Given the search in modern linguistics for general principles (and parameters) of syntactic organisation, the effects of contact should ideally be meaningfully integrated within an unfolding grammar.  One of the weaknesses of current approaches towards Sub-Saharan English is that the features of the variety are described in piecemeal lists that sometimes do not distinguish adequately between syntax, morphology, discourse and even lexis sometimes.   In this section I propose an approach that integrates a large proportion of the syntactic features of BSAE (Black South African English) with a general syntactic property that I term ‘anti-deletion’ (based on Mesthrie 2006).   In this formulation the syntax of mesolectal BSAE accords largely with that of L1 English in respect of underlying patterns and structures.  However, it differs on the surface in disfavouring empty nodes on trees.  In Mesthrie (2006) I outlined 3 types of anti-deletions, with examples from BSAE: (a) undeletions, which restore a feature that most syntacticians would agree is deleted in the course of syntactic derivation in standard English: e.g. infinitive to in He made me (to) do it; (b) non-deletions, whereby the dialect avoids deletion phenomena well-known in other varieties of English: e.g. copula deletion is unknown in BSAE; and (c) insertion, the opposite of deletion, where BSAE opts for longer strings than evident in standard English syntax: e.g. the auxiliary form can be able for standard English ‘can’. 
In light of this strong tendency I argued that BSAE lies at one end of a “deletion – anti-deletion” continuum, with other varieties like Singapore English on the other. In the Freiburg workshop I will extend this work by relating this continuum to the work of Szmrecsanyi & Kortmann in respect of complexity and analyticity.  In so doing I will use a relatively small, but coherent corpus of  educated, young mesolectal speakers of BSAE.

Complexity as a function of iconicity: the case of complement clause constructions in New Englishes
Maria Steger and Edgar W. Schneider

As yet, there is no universally-acknowledged and theory-independent definition of language complexity. This paper explores complement clause constructions within a cognitive-functionalist framework (cf. CROFT 2003) and, following GIVÓN (1985: 189), defines complexity in terms of processing considerations:

The iconicity meta-principle:
“All other things being equal, a coded experience is easier to store, retrieve and communicate if the code is maximally isomorphic to the experience.”

The less motivated a linguistic structure is, the more learning of a convention is required. Conversely, increase in structural motivation minimises the acquisition effort and is therefore assumed to be prevalent in transitional constructions which appear in the process of language acquisition. We expect traces of such conceptually motivated structural encoding to be found in grammatical patterns in New Englishes, which are products of both individual and community second language learning. In other words, we hypothesise syntactic structures that are supported by diagrammatic iconicity and by syntagmatic isomorphism to appear relatively more frequently in New Englishes than in standard British English.
This hypothesis will be tested by investigating verbs which, in standard British English, take nonfinite “NP to V” clausal complements, as in Mary wanted John to come, Mary expected John to come, or Mary persuaded John to come. These verbs display complex behaviour in their semantic and syntactic properties, as to e.g. whether or not the NP following the matrix verb is in itself a complement of this verb, whether the non-finite complement can also appear as a finite object clause whether there is an overt complementiser, or whether the subject NP of the embedded clause can undergo so-called “raising” to matrix clause subject position through passivisation.
If our prediction is borne out, the constructions complementing these verbs in New Englishes should reveal a tendency towards (a) explicit marking of their independent conceptual status by appearing as finite rather than non-finite clauses (motivated by iconicity of independence); (b) explicit expressions of modality (motivated by syntagmatic isomorphism and iconicity of independence); (c) explicit marking of the structural relationship of embedding (despite some degree of conceptual independence) by inserting a complementiser (motivated by syntagmatic isomorphism); (d) explicit marking of the double functions (matrix verb object and subject of the dependent predicate) of NP consituents with persuade-type verbs (motivated by syntagmatic isomorphism and iconicity of independence); and (e) less frequent selection of so-called “raising” phenomena (which violate iconicity of proximity). Incidentally, these assumptions are in line with SCHNEIDER's claim (2007: 86-88) that structural nativisation in New Englishes typically occurs at the interface of lexis and grammar.
To test these assumptions empirically, we analyse the behaviour of a number of verbs that take “NP to V” complementation in five ICE corpora representing ESL-type New Englishes at different developmental stages, i.e. East Africa, India, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Great Britain (as a benchmark for quantitative comparisons), and we report both qualitative observations and quantitative tendencies.

CROFT, William. 22003. Typology and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
GIVÓN, Talmy. 1985. “Iconicity, Isomorphism and Non-Arbitrary Coding in Syntax”. In HAIMAN, John (ed). Iconicity in Syntax. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 187-219.
SCHNEIDER, Edgar W. 2007. Postcolonial English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The creole prototype: ten years later
John McWhorter

Ten years ago, I proposed that creole languages are identifiable synchronically on the basis of a constrained assemblage of phonological, semantic and morphological features. In this paper I will revisit this hypothesis in view of criticism and subsequent findings, and show that creole languages are indeed a typological class of language, predictable as natural languages a short period beyond pidginhood. The discussion will refer to current work in morphology and second language acquisition, as well as reduplication, register contrast and Minimalism.

The complexity of the personal and possessive pronoun system of Norf'k
Peter Mühlhäusler

Pronoun systems in the world’s languages vary greatly in the following respects, including:

•    Size of the pronoun inventory
•    Regularity of pronoun paradigms
•    Formal distinction between personal, possessive and reflexive pronouns

The “complexity of a linguistic subsystem such as personal pronouns can be perceived as the number of different grammatical categories expressed by members of the paradigm” (Parkvall 2006 : 235). An additional criterion for complexity is the amount of irregularity or abnaturalness encountered.
Pidgins, Creoles and contact languages have been widely characterised as lacking complexity in their pronouns. My earlier research has shown that pronoun systems are  non-complex in the early stages of these languages  but that they can  gain considerable complexity over time. My initial hypothesis was that pronominal development followed some language-independent expansion rules and constraints. Subsequent research necessitated the inclusion of other parameters.
The Norf'k language exhibits greater complexity in its personal and possessive pronouns than the languages involved in its formation (Tahitian, English dialects  St Kitts Creole). This complexity is due to the fact that, like other areas of grammar such as nominal possession, Norf'k grammar can be characterized as an ‘overall pattern’ rather than a ‘common core’ grammar when compared to its sources. In addition, Norf'k pronouns are not only used for personal deixis, and anaphoricity but also for social deixis.
The paper aims at answering to what extent the pronominal grammars of the typologically diverse source languages have been successfully integrated in Norf'k
One of the conclusions is that Norf'k is not a Creole that has developed out of a Pidgin; another one that complexity is a combination of specific social factors and the operation of developmental programmes introducing finer distinctions .

Accounting for analyticity in creoles
Jeff Siegel

There is general agreement that expanded pidgins and creoles are primarily analytic languages, or at least more analytic than their lexifiers. One explanation for this analyticity is related to the view that adult second language learning is the source of  the formal simplicity in contact varieties. Analytic structures are considered as being “simpler” than synthetic ones, and therefore their presence in contact languages reflects an L2 learning process of simplification in which synthetic structures are replaced by analytic ones. If this is true, then we would expect L2 varieties (such as Singapore English) to be like expanded pidgins and creoles in having primarily analytic structures. However, recent research by Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi has demonstrated that there is no trade-off between syntheticity and analyticity in L2 varieties. In other words, L2 varieties, unlike expanded pidgins and creoles, have the same relative proportions of analytic and synthetic structures as found in other languages (i.e. in L1 varieties such as English Midlands English). How then can we account for the analyticity in expanded pidgins and creoles? This paper argues that it is result not of simplification but of language expansion. This occurs when either a restricted pidgin or a set of highly reduced individual interlanguages has its use extended to a much broader range of functions. More specifically, the analytic structures are the consequence of the functional transfer from the L1 that has been shown to occur as a compensatory strategy in L2 use.

Kortmann, B. & B. Szmrecsanyi (to appear). Parameters of morphosyntactic variation in World Englishes: prospects and limitations of searching for universals. In P. Siemund (ed.), Linguistic Universals and Language Variation. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Szmrecsanyi, B. & B. Kortmann (to appear). Between simplification and complexification: Non-standard varieties of English around the world. In G. Sampson, D. Gil & P. Trudgill (eds.), Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford: Oxford University Press