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Language structure is influenced by the number of speakers but seemingly not by the proportion of non-native speakers

  • Large-scale empirical evidence indicates a fascinating statistical relationship between the estimated number of language users and its linguistic and statistical structure. In this context, the linguistic niche hypothesis argues that this relationship reflects a negative selection against morphological paradigms that are hard to learn for adults, because languages with a large number of speakers are assumed to be typically spoken and learned by greater proportions of adults. In this paper, this conjecture is tested empirically for more than 2000 languages. The results question the idea of the impact of non-native speakers on the grammatical and statistical structure of languages, as it is demonstrated that the relative proportion of non-native speakers does not significantly correlate with either morphological or information-theoretic complexity. While it thus seems that large numbers of adult learners/speakers do not affect the (grammatical or statistical) structure of a language, the results suggest that there is indeed a relationship between the number of speakers and (especially) information-theoretic complexity, i.e. entropy rates. A potential explanation for the observed relationship is discussed.

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Author:Alexander KoplenigORCiDGND
ISSN:2054-5703 (Online)
Parent Title (English):Royal Society Open Science
Publisher:Royal Society of London
Place of publication:London
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2019/02/28
Tag:Native speaker; Non-native speaker; language complexity; linguistic niche hypothesis
GND Keyword:Sprachstatistik
First Page:1
Last Page:11
The publication of this article was funded by the Open Access fund of the Leibniz Association
DDC classes:400 Sprache / 430 Deutsch
Open Access?:ja
Leibniz-Classification:Sprache, Linguistik
Linguistics-Classification:Quantitative Linguistik
Program areas:Lexik
Licence (English):License LogoCreative Commons - Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 International