'All languages are equally complex': The rise and fall of a consensus

John E. Joseph, Frederick J Newmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Throughout most of the history of the discipline, linguists have had little hesitation in comparing languages in terms of their relative complexity, whether or not they extrapolated judgements of superiority or inferiority from such comparisons. By the mid 20th century, however, a consensus had arisen that all languages were of equal complexity. This paper documents and explains the rise of this consensus, as well as the reasons that have led to it being challenged in recent years, from various directions, including language diversity, as analysed by Daniel Everett; arguments about Creoles and Creoloids, as put forward by Peter Trudgill, and others; and views from generative linguistics and evolutionary anthropology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-368
Number of pages28
JournalHistoriographia Linguistica
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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