Workshop on Complexity and Register (CAR21)

The term “linguistic complexity” is often thrown around lightly, but what exactly is meant by it remains fuzzy and elusive. Its various flavours and facets are influenced by a diverse combination of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, for instance discourse status (Arnold et al. 2000), medium (Biber & Gray 2010), situational setting (Verhoeven & Lehmann 2018), and language development (Weiss & Meurers 2019), to name just a few. And despite the hundreds of measurements of phenomena that contribute to complexity (cf. Lu 2011; Weiss 2017), many open questions about the theoretical models, cognitive processes, and influencing factors behind complexity have yet to be explored.

This is where our workshop comes in. We are interested in discussions for a better understanding of the relationship between complexity and register.

19. November 2021

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, Lichthof Ost


09:00–09:15 Julia Lukassek Introduction
Presentation PDF
  Session 1, Chair: Otso Vanhala
09:15–10:15 Invited speaker: Zarah Weiß
(Universität Tübingen)
Linguistic complexity as a way to probe into genre differences?
Presentation PDF
10:25–10:55 Christoph Demian, Olga Buchmüller, Roland Meyer & Luka Szucsich
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Syntactic complexity and register in Russian
Presentation PDF
11:05–11:35 Fenia Karkaletsou & Artemis Alexiadou
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Synthetic-analytic variation in the formation of Greek comparatives and relative superlatives: A corpus study
11:35–11:50 Coffee break  
11:50–12:20 Sonja Zeman
Complexities of narration: Implications for investigating intra-textual register variation
12:30–13:00 Mathilde Hennig
Complexity and language variation in contemporary German
Presentation PDF
13:00–14:30 Lunch  
  Session 2, Chair: Nico Lehmann
14:30–15:30 Invited speakers: Benedikt Szmrecsanyi & Alexandra Engel
(KU Leuven)
Assessing the complexity of grammatical variation within and across registers
Presentation PDF
15:40–16:10 Katrin Menzel, Pauline Krielke & Stefania Degaetano-Ortlieb
(Universität des Saarlandes)
Structural complexity in scientific journal articles across time — from negative clausal expressions towards adjectival negative prefixes
16:10–16:20 Coffee break  
16:20–16:50 Tobias Becker & Stella Neumann
(RWTH Aachen)
Syntactic complexity and the effect of task-type in secondary school student writing
Presentation PDF
17:00–17:30 Sarah Schneider
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Local redundancy effects in written essays and an oral map task
Presentation PDF

Lunch options nearby

The workshop location is right in the city centre with lots of restaurants and other lunch options nearby. Download our list of places to go, including a map of the area.


The workshop is free of charge, but all participants need to register by November 12, 2021. There will be a warm-up social event on Thursday, November 18, 2021 (self-paid dinner). If you plan to attend this, please make sure to register as soon as possible.

Warm-up social

We meet at 19:00 (7pm) in front of the restaurant Goodtime. Have a look at the Goodtime menu.

Restaurant: Goodtime
Hausvogteiplatz 11
10117 Berlin

Workshop details

Being intangibly related to aspects of processing (cf. Gibson 1998, 2001), complexity pertains to all areas of language analysis, from phonological weight and morphological structure to the manifold levels of syntactic embedding and information packaging (see Weiss & Meurers 2019 for an aggregation of complexity features). Recent research has shown that these linguistic areas involve different types of complexity (e.g. for clause vs. phrase level, see Biber & Gray 2010, and for center vs. peripheral embedding, see Karlsson 2007 and Verhoeven & Lehmann 2018). Thus, we must first understand what type of complexity is involved and be able to operationalize it properly (Szmrecsányi 2004) before we can begin to investigate the underlying reasons for different levels of complexity.

Variation in situational and functional settings (register variation) has been shown to be one factor that affects the level of various types of linguistic complexity (cf. Halliday 1979; Biber & Gray 2010; Biber 2012; Maas 2006; 2010; Miller & Weinert 1998; for recursivity in particular Sakel & Stapert 2010; Kornai 2014), yet it is not always clear what the exact theoretical relationship is between register and the individual facets of complexity. How do the situation’s communicative needs and intentions affect our choice of one complexity measure over another? How do surface complexity and processing relate to one another, and what difference does the type of complexity make to this relationship?

We are delighted to announce Benedikt Szmrecsanyi with Alexandra Engel (KU Leuven) and Zarah Weiß (Universität Tübingen) as invited speakers.

Important Dates

  • submission of abstracts: August 31, 2021
  • notification of acceptance: September 30, 2021
  • registration deadline: November 12, 2021
  • workshop date: November 19, 2021


The workshop takes place at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin (Main building) in Lichthof Ost (when accessing the building from the main entrance at Unter den Linden, go to the right):

Location Map (Lichthof Ost marked in red):


Rules and Hygiene

Participants must follow the university’s „one of three“ rule, meaning allowed are only people who are either vaccinated, recovered or tested (last 48h). All participants have to wear masks and must fill out a contact sheet on site. Please keep a distance of 1.5 metres between other participants. Please also adhere to the common hygiene etiquette.


If you need to contact us, please write to:


Contributions to the workshop may cover, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • register variation
  • syntactic, structural, and grammatical complexity
  • morphological complexity
  • cognitive and processing complexity
  • recursion and embedding
  • variationist theory

Format of the Abstracts

Authors should submit anonymous 2-page abstracts (figures and references can be on a separate page) in a 12-point font (e.g. Times New Roman) to

References should be formatted according to the APA guidelines. Abstracts will be peer reviewed. Talks will be given 30 minute slots including discussion. The workshop language is English.


Arnold, Jennifer E., Anthony Losongco, Thomas Wasow & Ryan Ginstrom. 2000. Heaviness vs. newness: The effects of structural complexity and discourse status on constituent ordering. Lan- guage 76(1). 28.

Biber, Douglas. 2012. Register as a predictor of linguistic variation. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 8(1). 9–37.

Biber, Douglas & Bethany Gray. 2010. Challenging stereotypes about academic writing: Com- plexity, elaboration, explicitness. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 9(1). 2–20. https: //

Gibson, Edward. 1998. Linguistic complexity: Locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition 68(1). 1–76.

Gibson, Edward. 2001. The Dependency Locality Theory. In Alec P. Marantz, Yasushi Miyashita & Wayne O’Neil (eds.), Image, Language, Brain: Papers from the First Mind Articulation Project Symposium, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Halliday, Michael A. K. 1979. Differences between spoken and written language. In Glenda Page, John Elkins & Barrie O’Connor (eds.), Communication through reading: Proceedings of Fourth Australian Reading Conference. 37–52. Adelaide: Australian Reading Association.

Karlsson, Fred. 2007. Constraints on multiple center-embedding of clauses. Journal of Linguistics 3(43). 365–392.

Kornai, András. 2014. Resolving the infinitude controversy. Journal of Logic, Language and Infor- mation 23(4). 481–492.

Lu, Xiaofei. 2011. A corpus-based evaluation of syntactic complexity measures as indices of college- level ESL writers’ language development. TESOL Quarterly 45(1). 1–27.

Maas, Utz. 2006. Der Übergang von Oralität zu Skribalität in soziolinguistischer Perspektive. In Soziolinguistik: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Wissenschaft von Sprache und Gesellschaft, vol. 2 (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft), 2147–2170. De Gruyter.

Maas, Utz. 2010. Literat und orat. Grundbegriffe der Analyse geschriebener und gesprochener Sprache. Grazer Linguistische Studien (73). 21–150.

Miller, Jim & Regina Weinert. 1998. Spontaneous spoken language: Syntax and discourse .

Sakel, Jeanette & Eugenie Stapert. 2010. Pirahã – in need of recursive syntax? In Harry van der Hulst, Jeanette Sakel & Eugenie Stapert (eds.), Recursion and human language, 1–16. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

Szmrecsányi, Benedikt M. 2004. On operationalizing syntactic complexity. In The 7th International Conference on the Statistical Analysis of Textual Data. 1031–1038. Louvain La Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain.

Verhoeven, Elisabeth & Nico Lehmann. 2018. Self-embedding and complexity in oral registers. Glossa: A journal of general linguistics 3(1). 1–30. gjgl.592.

Weiss, Zarah & Detmar Meurers. 2019. Analyzing linguistic complexity and accuracy in academic language development of German across elementary and secondary school. In Proceedings of the fourteenth workshop on innovative use of nlp for building educational applications. 380–393. Florence, Italy: Association for Computational Linguistics. 4440.

Weiss, Zarah Leonie. 2017. Using measures of linguistic complexity to assess German L2 proficiency in learner corpora under consideration of task-effects: MA thesis.


Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – SFB 1412, 416591334