The most economical language – Musings about Bulgarian, information rate and Marcel Duchamp

May 9, 2017 | Uncategorized

Marcel DuchampA couple of days ago I had an interesting conversation with Svetlana, from our sister company Cintra, about her mother tongue, Bulgarian. As it turns out it is rather economical. For example, the consonant cluster “sht” often appears in various words, so Bulgarians invented a single letter that represents this string of sounds: “щ”. Clever, ha?

This conversation lead to another one, about the economy of languages and various strategies speakers employ to convey the most amount of information with the least effort. In a recent study which examined 7 widely spoken languages (English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, and German), English came out on top as the most economical of the surveyed languages with the highest information density rate. Researchers found that languages with lower information rate, i.e. where more syllables are needed to pass on the same information tend to be faster. So, for example, a Japanese speaker might compensate for their language’s lower information rate by uttering more syllables in the same time as an English speaker.

Imagine a language in which there is no need for such compensation strategies as its “aim is [to achieve] the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language”. This is exactly what John Quijada imagined when he created his no-nonsense language, Ithkuil. In Ithkuil, there is no ambiguity, redundancy (for example synonyms) and polysemy (words with several meanings), as it is designed to be an extremely economical language in which you can express intricate thoughts with much fewer words than in a natural language. It is intended for expressing complex philosophical, scientific or political ideas in the most efficient way possible. It can even be used for describing Marcel Duchamp’s complicated Cubist paintings with just a few words!


source of image: Wikimedia