Apparently there is a general trend that languages lose morphological marking over time. For example, according to this question PIE had 8 noun cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, etc), Latin 5, Romance 2 or even 1. Doesn't this show that less inflection is more natural?

My question is why the early languages had many morphological distinctions at the first place. I mean, why did the old Proto-Indo-European folks invent 8 different words to call "a lion", or dozens of words for "to eat", etc. To me, it sounds more natural to call a lion a lion regardless of whether it's nominative or accusative. What analyses have been made about this?

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    Who says PIE was early? It may have been middle aged or even late but we can only look back in time a short distance in linguistics. – hippietrail Sep 20 '11 at 16:22
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    As Daniel Briggs pointed out, it's not really the case that ancient languages were more complex. This apparent regularity is true of Indo-European languages and to a limited extent of Sino-Tibetan languages, but it's false when applied to most of the other language families in the world. – JSBձոգչ Sep 20 '11 at 16:32
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    @LouisRhys I don't think it's useful to think of proto-IE as having "8 different words for 'lion' ". They had that number of ways of morphologically marking the one word. In (Modern) English we also mark words in many different ways, but instead of using morphology we use syntax. So where proto-IE was (fairly) morphologically complex, Modern English is (very) syntactically complex. – Gaston Ümlaut Nov 12 '11 at 1:50
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    @CayetanoGonçalves, but Spanish conjugation is more complex than English conjugation. In English, "I" is "I", whether it's I write, I wrote or I will write. Assuming that you mean "Escribo", it's -o, -í or -iré etc depending on the tense, mood etc. And that's just for -ir verbs. – dainichi Aug 7 '12 at 11:29
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    He, good point. What I meant was that Spanish really adds no new information, it just packs it within the verbal conjugation whereas other, more analytical languages (e.g. English) have to state it explicitely using either more words or syntax. Of course, as a native speaker I may be biased into seeing it as simpler than it really is. – Joe Pineda Jan 18 '14 at 14:53

11 Answers 11

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Really, it depends a lot on the region of the world you're from.

The isolating nature of the English language and Chinese, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the rest of the Germanic languages, as well as the Romance languages, is certainly not a norm worldwide. Living languages, in fact, on average incorporate about as much information into their words as old indo-european languages did. Check out polysynthetic languages to see extreme examples of this.

Even so, old indo-european languages do seem to have rather complex rules, incorporating many seemingly different lexical forms, about noun inflection and verb conjugation, making them perhaps in a real sense "harder" to learn than agglutinative languages. I'll try to address why by pasting together some hypotheses and some facts.

  1. PIE may have resulted largely from the influence of a Uralic superstrate on a NW or NE Caucasian or related language, or from the influence of both on a third language. Source.

  2. PIE quickly spread far and wide, probably multiple times, leading to

    a) a premium on a modicum of mutual intelligibility for trade, concomitant with

    b) a bunch of L2 (second-language) speakers exhibiting substrate pressure in the form of phonetic changes (e.g., loss of the laryngeals) and, more importantly, grammatical changes.

  3. At the same time, there is possibly a natural cycle of isolating->agglutinative->inflecting->isolating in languages. (Every step of this cycle has been observed, although the entire cycle has never been observed.) PIE was past an agglutinative stage and fit quite squarely within the "inflecting" paradigm when it spread.

I'll mention one, perhaps rather conservative, deduction that can be drawn from this: verbal paradigms which once made sense (3) started making less sense (2b) but were kept (2a). Hence, we have to learn the principal parts of a verb when learning Greek or Latin. Most contemporaries of Proto-Indo-European probably had even richer inflecting/agglutinating structure, but probably fewer irregularities.

So many other conjectures can be formed, so I'll leave the rest of the deductions to you, since it's really hard to say that this results in any one particular effect rather than another.

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    @Anixx Does academic consensus recognize Frederik Kortlandt as a crackpot? If not, that statement is, at best, an open question, and certainly not "crap". – user2109 May 27 '13 at 9:14
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    @Anixx Please include an explanation or link to an explanation. And yes, the viability of hypotheses such as Kortlandt's, or Starostin's on Caucasian, can be difficult to evaluate since they go so far back. But it's better than having no hypothesis to discuss, which is IMO equally unuseful as having nothing to say. – Daniel Briggs Jun 2 '13 at 18:16
  • -1. PIE is very far from NE or NW Caucasian, but close to Uralic. It cannot be "Uralic influenced Cucasian" – Anixx Jun 11 '14 at 15:48

They seem morphologically complex to us English speakers because we speak an analytic language and don't notice how complex our syntax is. It seems bizarre to us to have umpty-ump different forms for every word, with lots of different paradigms and exceptions. And for gods sake, deponent verbs. Gimme a break! True. All true.

But consider that synthetic language speakers learn all these paradigms long before they learn to write -- if they ever do; most people in the world are illiterate, after all -- and all they have to do when they learn to write is figure out how to represent what they say and what they already understand.

They, on the other hand, go nuts when they try to learn English spelling, and get mad when they find out about English syntax -- there are just too many thousands of constructions, each with its own short list of peculiarities, including preferred predicates, presuppositions, and pronunciations. And no (or only very few, and they only recently discovered, and still controversial) regularities that can be expressed in human or programming languages. We English speakers learned all this unconsciously before we went to school, and we're blissfully unaware of it because Anglophone schools don't teach English grammar.

Try explaining to a Finn sometime, for example, why We're going shopping is OK in English, while *We're going eating isn't; and what the difference is between this go+V-ing construction and others, like

  • go and+V (Let's go and help/eat / They went and helped/ate)
  • go+V (Let's go help/eat / *They went helped/ate)

Ask any teacher of English as a non-native language. English is syntactically complex. That's the tradeoff you usually find between an analytic language like English -- where syntax does most of the grammatical work -- and a synthetic one like PIE -- where morphology does the heavy lifting. When you have more of one, you need and use less of the other; but when things change in the one, there's always the other to use instead.

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    I've always had this vague feeling that English is able to convey more subtle distinctions than other languages because of the way it uses syntactic constructions rather than morphological variations. On the "syntax->morphology" scale, is English in fact the most extreme, or are there other languages that have taken this principle further? And is there any commonly-accepted explanation for why languages differ along this axis? – FumbleFingers Mar 3 '13 at 3:26
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    Vietnamese is even more analytic than English, and so is Chinese. The usual explanation is the Grammaticalization Cycle. – jlawler Mar 3 '13 at 6:12
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    Crumbs! I'd never have expected that! It seems language evolution is similar to the biological process in that it's not necessarily "advancing" in any objective sense over longer periods of time. That "cycle" looks a bit like the "centralise/decentralise" process that operates in some nationwide businesses over small numbers of decades (where I think the fact of being in constant flux has beneficial implications for the long-term survival of organisations). – FumbleFingers Mar 3 '13 at 13:42
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    " that English is able to convey more subtle distinctions than other languages " - the sort of rubbish which only a monolingualist would spout. – fdb Mar 18 '14 at 20:59
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    No, English is quite analytic. Latin is a synthetic-fusional language, and its grammar has been widely used to describe English; unfortunately, this has led to many generations of anxious cluelessness about English grammar because what grammar is taught in schools is incorrect, as it is based on Latin, not English. – jlawler Sep 25 '15 at 14:33

This puzzling mystery is completely resolved when you realize that recursive embedded grammar is a feature that is not present in ancient languages, and appears only well after the evolution of writing. When you need to handle recursion the case-systems and complex morphology of pre-literate language becomes unnatural.

All modern fully embedded grammars are essentially the same--- they are described by a context-free replacement grammar which allows adjectives, adverbs, and verb arguments to be replaced by multi-word phrases which serve the same role. The reason is not that this is a fundamental defining property of language. The reason is because the qualitative ideas behind context-free grammars were invented in Greek and Roman times, and Cicero and Aristotle explicitly prescriptively advocated writing this way.

This type of embedded recursive grammar is extremely successful at producing convenient written expressions of complex ideas in a short, but not unduly taxing, form. Due to its convenience, all of the old-world languages adopted the recursive grammar of Cicero et al., one by one, as they acquired bi-lingual speakers of European languages and translations of European recursive works. Once you have multiple embedding, it is very difficult to stop doing it, and you can easily invent a way to do it in any language.

This is the reason that in modern European languages, and in those of India, Asia, or Africa, recursive clausal embedding works in almost the exact same way, a way described well by a context free grammar, with potentially unlimited center, initial, and final embedding. This is like a virus, spreading via bilingual speakers, and only languages which were isolated from Europe by oceans were immune.

Thankfully, a few languages maintained their non-embedded form, due to cultural isolation, most notably Piraha (which has no center embedding, as described in the revolutionary work of Everett) and Warlpiri (which has no full recursive grammar as well). The Native American language as a rule did not have a full context-free structure, and neither do ancient Sanskrit, ancient Chinese, ancient Hebrew, or any ancient language other than (remarkably) ancient Greek and Latin.

This idea is explicitly described and argued by Fred Karlsson in "Constraints on multiple center-embedding of clauses".

Cicero's Remarkable Invention

Embedding with context-free recursive structure became so ubiquitous, that every literate person learns this structure before adolescence, and forgets that it did not come naturally. This structure was invented, not discovered, and it was invented by structure-conscious writers in Greek and Roman times. It spread by emulation to other languages, sometimes by conscious effort of literary folks to popularize this form of expression.

This means that scholars, who for obvious reasons structurally tend to be the most highly literate members of society, all see that every language that they learn has a roughly isomorphic recursive grammar that describes how to produce complex sentences, a grammar which is fundamentally based on a context-free replacement generative grammar. This comes as a shock--- it is a jarring realization which begs for an explanation

I am a native Hebrew speaker, and I remember learning English as a child. I remember that I was miserable for a while, because everything was new. When I finally learned enough vocabulary to make complex sentences, I was immediately struck by the fact that these sentneces, unlike simple constructions, are word-for-word identical to Hebrew complex sentences. I didn't have to learn anything more! I knew immediately how to produce any complex sentence without effort.

It is the same as you learn a new computer language. After learning a few function words and idioms, the structure of the complex expressions is immediately apparent, if you already know another programming language. The reason is that computer languages are all based on the notion of context-free grammars, explicitly abstracted from natural language by Chomsky and Schutzenberger. In the 1950s, Noam Chomsky gave a definition of a language grammar which made the embedding structure the primary ingredient. A language grammar is context free when it allows an arbitrarily deep center-embedding, and Chomsky hypothesized that all the world's languages are described by context free grammars because the original human language was described by a context free grammars.

This is true of all old-world languages, and without a historical appreciation, just by looking at the structure of the languages, one can mistakenly come to believe that this structure is very ancient, and the common source is in prehistoric times. This fallacy is so compelling, that it was unchallenged dogma until Everett's work of 2005.

A Language evolution fallacy

If you see that all birds share a hole in the hip-bone, and all dinosaurs do, you are justified in concluding that birds and dinosaurs have a common ancestor which had a hole in the hip-bone. The reason is Darwin's evolution--- this was the main prediction of the theory. The characteristics of the common ancestor are preserved by all descendents, and if you see two species with a common trait, you can be pretty sure that it was because they evolved in the same family.

This explains why life-forms organize in a heirarchical cladistics tree. Languages also come in a cladistics-like tree, and this is because the transmission of language is much like the transmission of genes, it preserves certain word-sounds and structures in a diverging evolving form.

But unlike evolution, bilingual speakers can transmit nontrivial structure horizontally between very distantly related languages. So that in languages, you find creoles, which in biology would be like an oak-tree/lizard hybrid. You find languages like English whose vocabulary is split almost 50/50 between Germanic and Latin roots, and which are clearly Germanic with enormous Latin influence. You find completely alien loan-words in English like "Kimono" and "Feng-Shui" which come from some of the most distantly related languages in the world.

But most significantly, grammatical constructions are also shared. The fact that all languages recurse the same way suggests one of two things:

  1. The common ancestor of all languages recursed this way
  2. Recursion was invented at one spot, and spread horizontally.

Experience with Darwinian evolution suggests the first option, and this is Chomsky's hypothesis. It's dead wrong. The correct answer is number 2.

This means that every one of the world's languages (except for Greek and Latin and their descendents) has a grammatical discontinuity, the moment when it became recursive. This is usually something you can see--- it is a sharp revolutionary advance on the past, and it leads to a golden-age of literature in the coming centuries.

Morphological pressures in pre-recursive and post-recursive languages

In pre-recursive languages, there is no fundamental reason to put the preposition marker before the word, and a very good reason to put it after--- there is already a definite/indefinite marker before the word taking up space.

If you say, in Hebrew "the mountain", you say "ha-har", which in syllable terms, puts a syllable before the word. Now if you say "I walked to the mountain" "halachti la-har, you are putting two syllables before the word. In Hebrew, the two syllables are merged to one, "la" which is much like "to-the" becoming "t'a", as in "I walked t'a mountain". But ignore that.

A word has two ends, and it is much clearer to put the definite marker on one end, and the case-marker (the preposition) on the other end, so that they don't have to fight. This makes best use of the phoneme space, and this is the preferred solution.

"I walked the-mountain-ward" (Halachti ha-har-a)

But this solution is the casing solution, and it interferes with embedding in a way described in the body of this question: Did case systems dissappear to make embedding easier? . When you replace the mountain by an embedded phrase, it puts a syllable in the middle of the embedded phrase in such a way that it is difficult to shear off.

This puts pressure on languages to shed case systems and other morphological transformations in favor of stand-alone function words with a common syntax, beginning at the date that recursive embedding becomes common among all speakers of the language.

Ancient Embedding styles

Just so that I am clear--- all languages embed conceptually, they only don't embed grammatically. The concepts in a non-recursive language are not simpler than in a recursive language, they are just expressed more verbosely.

I want something. Namely, to be clear. All languages have conceptual embedding. They do not need grammatical embedding, not necessarily. If a language has no embedding, then the concepts are not simpler. You just say things more verbosely.

So there is no implication that speakers of Piraha are somehow less than human, or not fully capable of philosophizing, or anything like that. These ideas only come if you associate grammatical recursion with language, an association which is false.

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    dude, you really like long posts, do you ? :p – Louis Rhys Mar 9 '12 at 6:29
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    "In pre-recursive languages, there is no fundamental reason to put the preposition marker before the word, and a very good reason to put it after--- there is already a definite/indefinite marker before the word taking up space." Wrong! There are lots of languages where there is no "definite/indefinite marker before the word." – Alex B. Mar 9 '12 at 16:20
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    @ Ron Maimon: Your doubt is misplaced, evidently based on secondary sources, which are apparently making incorrect claims about the primary sources. The example that I have cited is from the Rigveda (the earliest Sanskrit), which scholarly consensus takes to have been composed between 1200-1000 BCE, and this particular example is from the oldest stratum of the Rigveda (cf. Oldenberg 1888 and Renou 1947). Thus, as a matter of fact, all of the oldest records of Indo-European languages (the Rigveda and Atharvaveda, Old Hittite, Homeric Greek) attest to languages that exhibit recursion. – rsandell Oct 20 '13 at 18:09
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    Right. Clause recursion has nothing to do with writing. Language has nothing to do with writing. It only looks that way because the oldest examples of recursion are written. Naturally; unwritten words leave no fossils. – jlawler Jan 15 '14 at 16:55
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    We have no knowledge about the history or development of Pirahã; no doubt it developed from earlier versions, but who knows what they were like? I repeat: unwritten words leave no fossils. And I would add that words are not languages. As for recursion, it certainly is a property of human cognition, but not specifically of language. I have always believed that language was a cultural tool, and so does Dan. The important thing is to get post-Chomsky and start talking about data instead of angels and pinheads. – jlawler Feb 3 '14 at 4:22

I'm a fan of the hypothesis that Daniel Briggs brought up: the cyclical nature of verbal paradigms through time. I wish I could cite sources because I know it's out there, but I can't.

I wanted to contribute a thought: Where one language is simple, another language is complex. For instance, Chinese has tones and English has a seriously complex phonology, but both are isolating. But most polysynthetic languages have a much simpler phonology (like, say, Menominee). And phonology, too, of course goes through cycles (think Great Vowel Shift, Grimm's Law, High German Consonant Shift, et al).

With absolutely no evidence at hand to back it up, it's a neat idea to think that maybe phonological complexity and grammatical complexity cycle against each other. I feel a question brewing...

  • Look up Latin and the Romance languages, and past tense. "to have" + verb. – kaleissin Sep 20 '11 at 20:59
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    Check out the literature on "Grammaticalization". Here's a short explanation, with an example from Latin: The phonological and morphosyntax systems of Latin sort of reset together, leading to the modern Romance languages. – jlawler Nov 25 '11 at 23:25
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    Hmm Georgian is polysynthetic but it's phonology is pretty complex for me. In fact I think the Caucasus region is one with a good few languages that are complex in many ways and simple in not many at all. – hippietrail May 21 '13 at 2:11
  • Lushootseed (the only polysynthetic language I'm familiar with) phonology is fairly simple, but the phonetics is very heavy -- 8 distinct voiceless velar stop phonemes, complete set of ejective stops, lateral series, plain and glottalized resonants. Details here. – jlawler Jul 21 '15 at 13:54

Romance languages are far from isolating, and Italian verbal phrases for example look more like polysynthetic constructions than syntactic structures, even though one usually write them like several words.

The sentence "glielo darò" = "I will give it to him", is actually one word, even though it is written as two.

In languages with case systems, embedding is often made by initiating the embedded phrase with a pronoun that carries the case marker, or by putting the case marker at the end of the verb. You can easily embed ad infinitum with these methods.

  • Can you please document who considers it one word? When I studied Italian, never heard my teacher calling it so! "gli" and "lo" are markers that stand in place for the direct and indirect objects: "Scrivo una carta per Maria" (I write a letter for Mary). If it's known whom we're talking about or what I'm writing, can be abbreviated: La scrivo per Maria (write it for Mary) / Gli scrivo una lettera (Write a letter for her). Taking out both: Gliela scrivo. Spanish has the exact same construction "Escribo una carta para María" -> "se la escribo". – Joe Pineda Jan 15 '14 at 12:28
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    @JoePineda: Though I don't know if this is a commonly held position, Knut is obviously talking about them being single words phonologically. It's extremely common that phonologically and orthographically word boundaries do not coincide. It is just as common that literate people think the orthography is the one true essense of their language. Language teachers who are not also linguists are no different in this regard. In fact telling such a thing to a language student is likely to confuse them. (I don't know much Italian but I can't say I agree in that particular case.) – hippietrail Jan 18 '14 at 7:18
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    @hippietrail Oh, OK, I can agree with the "single word" categorization then, for rythmically speaking both Spanish and Italian speakers make no pauses when uttering "glieglo daró/se lo daré". Probably a denomination like "rythmic group" or the like would avoid an unnecessary discussion about just what is or is not a word. – Joe Pineda Jan 18 '14 at 14:42
  • @JoePineda: Or why not start a new question where all the discussion would then be necessary? (-: – hippietrail Jan 20 '14 at 15:51

A language that has eight case endings seems more complex than a language that has only two or none. But that is a wrong view. Case endings don`t fall from heaven as a present of God.They are personal pronouns as "him, to him, of him" or prepostions as "from to down etc". These markers were added after the word and, of course, they were shortened and tended to become irregular.

A new and simpler system was to place personal pronouns and prepositions before nouns with the advantage that they don´t become irregular.

The same is true for verb endings. They are logical particles added after the verbstem. The tendency to shortening and irregularity is much stronger as with nouns. And it is much more difficult to show how such things were constructed in detail. We can offer only hypotheses.

I'm a programmer, when I develop a system for a project I may not have enough information to get to an efficient solution within several iterations. Often convolution will occur as new relationships are created and new abstractions are formed.. this inevitably results in a code 'refactor' which is when the 'bloated' library is reduced to a more efficient, effective and precise behaviour.

Language would surely have this same development cycle?

  • You may want to expand your answer with more details about how your coding experience may answer the original question. – bytebuster Aug 21 '13 at 21:16
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    My point was that convolution is not considered. – Jay Aug 22 '13 at 13:28

Interesting response from Ron Maimon, although I am not sure I understand it fully. How can we be sure that proto-Indoeuropeans did not have elements embedded within other elements in a syntactic structure? Nor do I think that English is more "complex" syntactically than Greek or Latin, maybe less regular. Where there are analytic rules, they are obscure and differ spuriously between British and US speakers, as well as within British or US speakers. The word "complexity" sounds self-gratifying enough. A better word for that might be sloppiness. The fact is that proto-Indoeuropeans in a pre-literate age, had a highly inflected grammar, whose origin seems a mystery. Counter-intuitively, with the advent of schooling, languages started to become grammatically simplified. One interesting study I read was that illiterate reciters of epics from India could recite long epics from memory, whereas their children who went to school had to make notes and write everything down and had trouble in reciting these epics. So the explanation may be that illiteracy frees up certain brain resources that can be allocated to an inflected grammar among other things. That still would not explain how proto-Indoeuropean grammar became so highly inflected.

Culturally, it would cursorily appear that languages became less inflected with the introduction of large numbers of foreign speakers, e.g. in the case of ancient Latin being succeeded by less inflected Romance languages or in the creation of creoles (e.g. modern English). Overall, however, there seems a tendency, even in the emerging less-inflected languages, for scholars to use a more regular and more inflected speech than non-scholars or non-experts. There is, in contrast, also a view or trend among non-scholars that speaking in a non-inflected way is more expressive, but this sounds like some kind of conceit. There is a neurological condition when damage in the speech area induces patients who struggle to express themselves to invent new words of no known meaning. I can see how some people with natural or clinical deficits in the grammar and vocabulary of a language perceived themselves as more expressive in avoiding convention and coming up with the occasional new word, using a foreign word or an irregular expression. Occasionally it might have even sounded like poetic license of a sort and could catch on. Bizarre words like bloke, dude, funk, etc seem to belong to that department.

Ancient writers can be very much enjoyed today. Their style has been often imitated and certainly they had no problem with expressiveness, just because their language was more inflected - that is self-deception.

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    I didn't say that the modern languages are more expressive, I said they are more easily compatible with recursion. When you have inflected languages, you don't do a simple textual replacement for a word with a phrase which occupies the same structural role in the sentence, you need to do extra fiddling around. So when you have recursion there is suddenly a pressure to jettison all dongles. I noticed this as a child, in Hebrew, where all the books advocate "Shmi Ron" (name-o-mine [is] Ron), while EVERYONE really says "Ha-shem sheli Ron" (The name of me [is] Ron), even though it is longer! – Ron Maimon Mar 23 '14 at 23:22
  • In this case, I knew from direct experience why this was happening--- you sometimes say "Ha-shem shel ha-ach sheli hagadol ze Ron" (The name of the brother of-mine the-big it [is] Ron), and the "shel" construction allows for easy recursion, and makes one universal rule for all such constructions, recursive or not, while the "i" at the end doesn't work with phrases, and only works to modify single words. The general rule is easy to induct from this--- when you have people recursing all the time, they want stand-alone words and no casing or attached possessives, these make recursion hard. – Ron Maimon Mar 23 '14 at 23:25
  • Someone else claimed that English is an expressive language, perhaps because it is non-inflected, and my criticism had nothing to do with what you had said. You make some good points but it remains counter-intuitive how you go the other way around from recursion to inflection, assuming that was how the proto-Indoeuropean language developed. – Nick Mar 25 '14 at 13:50
  • You never go the other way around. There's no way proto-Indo-European was any more recursive than anything else. – Ron Maimon Mar 25 '14 at 19:01

Some interesting answers here but none really get at the crux of it.

Remember that civilization only really rose up around 10,000 years ago (and even then not all at once). Humans before that lived in small, isolated communities. Technological progress was slow. The languages of individual tribes were able to develop over long periods with minimal influence from their neighbors and without the need to frequently add new words to describe new technologies, new places, etc. In that environment languages were able to develop complex grammars with complex inflections for individual nouns.

Then enters civilization. Contact with other cultures and rapidly advancing technology causes the vocabularies of the languages to have to change rapidly making inventing inflections for the new words challenging (all of the speakers have to understand the inflections to communicate). Perhaps more importantly, the increased contact between cultures means that people are having to learn each others' languages. The natural result of that is a gradual simplification of the grammars as the different languages blend with each other; if you study how creole languages form, it is natural for the grammar of the creole to be more analytic in its structure than the parent languages.

So it is not that less inflection is more natural, per se. It is that complex morphologies tend only to form in environments where the culture is relatively small and isolated, which is something that has not existed in our world for a few millenia.

Semitic languages (except Modern Hebrew which was simplified for European Jews) are much more grammatically complex than modern European languages (especially English which is the least complex, grammatically, of the MELs).

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    Thanks for your answer. I'm not sure it really addresses the question, which was why IE languages used to be more complex. Do you think you can you edit your answer? – robert Jan 18 '14 at 10:22
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    Can you clarify where you got the idea that Modern Hebrew [...] was simplified for European Jews? – Wilson Nov 27 '17 at 10:29

Here is a theory: Original languages had few lexical words, so it made sense to have irregular versions for different grammatical functions. Storage could simply link to the appropriate form. As the lexicon grew, these linkages (axons) would be strained to find the right form. If morphemes could be moved to the relation (the neuron body), then the lexical density would remain manageable. (a tradeoff of more dendrites but shorter axons)

This theory can only be tested indirectly. Its major assumption is that the brain stores 'data' in highly organized tree-like structures (as opposed to the messy structures that better handle 'processes'). The theory applies only to relations (typically verbs). The case structure of languages does not affect the storage paradigm; it merely increases the efficiency of communication when strict ordering allows the elision of some case marking morphemes.

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    Do you have any evidence to support your assumptions? – user6726 Mar 31 '16 at 22:56

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