LINGUIST List 14.1403

Fri May 16 2003

Qs: 'White weapon'; Phonological Complexity

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  1.>, Cutting/white weapon
  2. Doug Whalen, Phonological Complexity

Message 1: Cutting/white weapon

Date: Thu, 15 May 2003 22:38:38 +0200
From:> <>
Subject: Cutting/white weapon

Dear All,

Does anyone have any idea, why the cutting weapon, as opposed to the
firearms, is in some languages (mostly Romance ones) called "white
weapon"? Is here the color symbolism the main factor or are there any
"pure linguistic" reasons for that? And, what more important, does
anyone know any non-european languages in which the cutting weapon is
also called "white"?

all the best
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Message 2: Phonological Complexity

Date: Thu, 15 May 2003 12:29:58 +0000
From: Doug Whalen <>
Subject: Phonological Complexity

The sounds of speech are usually assumed to differ in complexity. From
at least Jakobson's work forward, complex segments are assumed to be
acquired late. There is a relationship between complexity and
markedness, though it does not seem to be a simple one. Linguists
have typically avoided discussing complexity directly (as outlined in
Comrie, 1992) since it seems to imply that more complex languages are
more highly (or less highly) valued.

Nonetheless, I would like to quantify complexity in sound systems. In
particular, I would like to estimate how complex a sound is in the
system used by a listener, rather than describing, perhaps, only
underlying relationships. Having a variety of theoretical positions
with clear predictions would be the most useful. If you have any
recommendations on how to quantify complexity (in your theory or in
others), please drop me a line. I will summarize if there is
sufficient interest.

Comrie, B. (1992). Before complexity. In J. A. Hawkins & M. Gell-Mann
(Eds.), The evolution of human languages (pp. 193-211). Redwood City,
CA: Addison-Wesley.
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