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The Fate of Complex Languages: Classical Arabic and Old Norse in the Age of Globalisation

Author(s): Wouter Kusters

Journal: Nordlyd : Tromsø university working papers on language & linguistics / Institutt for språk og litteratur, Universitetet i Tromsø
ISSN 0332-7531

Volume: 31;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2004;
Original page

Keywords: Language Contact | Simplification | Complexity | Inflectional Morphology | Globalisation | Arabic Language | Scandinavian Language

I discuss the effects of globalisation on verbal inflection in two language groups, Arabic and Scandinavian. With the term ‘globalisation’ I do not only refer to most recent world history, but also to earlier expansions of empires, cultures and languages. I compare the social and cultural situation and the verbal inflection of Classical Arabic and Old Norse with those of modern Arabic and Scandinavian varieties. The hypothesis that factors of the historical social dimension influence variables of verbal inflection is confirmed for these cases. It was found that the more second language learning takes place, the more internal dialect contact and migrations occur, and the less prestige a language has, the more transparent and economic the verbal inflection becomes. On the other hand, tight small communities with strong language traditions and few second language learners are found to be the best environment for inflectional complexities. When such small communities expand, and when the earlier ‘ethnic’ language becomes a tool for smoother communication, restructuring takes place. In Arabic and Scandinavian this restructuring is sensitive to phonological changes, and appears to be almost ‘natural’. Other evidence from cases like Quechua and Swahili indicate that simplification is morphologically and semantically driven and needs favorable social circumstances to take place. This strongly suggests that simplification has some universal characteristics, like the tendency towards more economy and transparency, but is also dependent on language particular morphological structure.

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