I can find measures of "readability" but not language complexity (there might be another word for this, I give an example below) online. If anyone knows of any, would you list them?

By complexity I mean e.g.:

Simple Bob is preparing fish for dinner.

Complex Bob wields a sharpened metallic instrument when hacking an ichthyoid. (see image)

a simple vs. complex description of something

  • 1
    Readability measures are just simplistic bullshit. Don't put any faith in them. As for complexity, it doesn't have to do with using fancy or weird words; it's a human perception, and -- like most things -- people have different perceptions about what kind of language they find more complex. So, no; there aren't any useful measures of language complexity, unless you start out with the idea that certain things are more complex, in which case you tend to find what you expected to find.
    – jlawler
    Jan 23, 2015 at 20:10
  • If you want to measure the complexity of a text; this is what readability measurements try to do.
    – AverageGatsby
    Jan 23, 2015 at 20:18
  • Not for human (natural) languages. There are measures of complexity for formal languages but they're irrelevant here.
    – Atamiri
    Jan 24, 2015 at 21:32

2 Answers 2


It's been proposed that languages should be judged more complex when children take longer to learn to speak them as a first language. And specifically, I think I recall, Russian children take somewhat longer to start speaking than for some other well studied languages. I'm sorry that I can't recall any references for you.

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    It is another interesting topic, but the OP is asking about measuring phrases in the same particular language, not about languages themselves.
    – J-mster
    Jan 24, 2015 at 10:30
  • So you think the question is about comparing the complexity of constructions in the same language? Then I suppose we could look at when children master specific constructions, rather than languages.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 24, 2015 at 15:15

Here are some links for you to pursue: A, B, C, D. A thing is more complex iff it has more stuff in it that the thing you're comparing it to (that simply follows from the meaning of "complex"). There's little hope for an equation between difficulty of comprehension and formal complexity.

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