The remarkable fact that some languages appear to be more complex than others has long been a matter of interest to linguists and has repeatedly motivated efforts to define linguistic complexity and to explain how and why complexity develops and why it is sometimes “maintained” (as Dahl puts it) and sometimes not. In this monograph Dahl presents a theory of linguistic complexity and tries to tackle the mysteries of its growth and occasional longevity.
While the typological tradition from Schlegel (1808) to Finck (1910) and Sapir (1921) to Greenberg (1978) endeavored to define linguistic complexity in synchronic terms, Dahl views it in diachronic terms as the outcome of what he calls “maturation processes”, that is, developments through which language categories reach “maturity”. The book comprises twelve chapters entitled 1. Introduction (1–4), 2. Information and redundancy (5–18), 3. Complexity, order, and structure (19–56), 4. Languages as non-genetically inherited systems (57–74), 5. Aspects of linguistic knowledge (75–102), 6. Maturation processes (103–118), 7. Grammatical maturation (119–156), 8. Pattern adaptation (157–181), 9. Featurization (181–208), 10. Incorporating patterns (209–260), Stability and change (261–288), 12. Final discussion (289–296). These twelve chapters are preceded by a brief Preface (ix–x) and followed by an Appendix (297–302), References (303–314), a List of abbreviations, and indexes of languages, authors, and subjects (315–333).