New Books Network

Peter Trudgill

Sociolinguistic Typology

Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity

University Press 2011

New Books in LanguageNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 18, 2012 George Walkden

If you had to bet your life on learning a language in three months, which language would you choose? Peter Trudgill’s first choice wouldn’t...

If you had to bet your life on learning a language in three months, which language would you choose? Peter Trudgill’s first choice wouldn’t be Faroese or Polish; and in his book, Sociolinguistic Typology: Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity (Oxford University Press, 2011), he suggests that there are good historical reasons for that.

In the book, Peter Trudgill argues that human societies at different times and places may produce different kinds of language, and considers the influence of different language contact scenarios on linguistic structure. The book’s main thesis is that, while isolation and long-term co-territorial contact can lead to increased complexity, contact situations involving large numbers of adult L2 learners are likely to lead to increased simplicity – and that as a result the typological spread of the world’s languages today is probably strikingly unrepresentative of the situation throughout nearly all of human history.

In this interview we discuss the implications of these ideas for certain long-held views, such as the view that all languages are equally complex, and the view that processes operative in the present should be used to explain the past. We also discuss the role of language acquisition, the urgent need for documentation of endangered languages spoken by societies of intimates, and how Peter’s ideas can be applied at other linguistic levels such as syntax.