Language is shaped by brain’s desire for clarity and ease

According to an experiment by researchers at the University of Rochester and Georgetown University, changes emerge in languages to ensure that they can communicate meaning as precisely and concisely as possible. If languages contain too much redundancy or complexity, they tend to change to achieve a balance between effort and clarity. This may be a reason why similar structures are found in many languages.

The researchers used artificial languages they created to test their ideas and taught them to monoglot English-speaking students. They showed the students images, animations and recordings, and asked them to use the artificial languages to describe what they saw or heard. The languages used suffixes to mark the subject and object of a sentence, and the students tended to use the suffixes to clarify the meaning where it was unclear or ambiguous more than when the meaning was obvious.

One researcher said that “”Language acquisition can repair changes in languages to insure they don’t undermine communication,” and that “new generations can perhaps be seen as renewing language, rather than corrupting it”.

Another researcher commented that contractions, abbreviations and other aspects of informal speech are ways of making language more efficient, though are only used if it’s possible to infer the meaning from the context.

This entry was posted in Language.

3 Responses to Language is shaped by brain’s desire for clarity and ease

  1. Andrew says:

    So…in other words, language evolves over time?

    In other news: water wet, ice cold, and did you know you might die some day?

    Sorry, could help myself, I was feeling snarky today.


  2. Simon says:

    Water is wet!? I never knew 🙂

    It seems what they’re saying is that language change is not a bad thing and does not hinder clarity or efficacy of communication. We won’t end up speaking incomprehensible goobledegook, as many like to predict, and have been predicting since time immemorial.

  3. Roger says:

    Snarky is a good word Andrew to describe research which comes up with the bleeding obvious. Yes language is only about clear concise communication and thus as the situation demands, it mutates. A side effect of this is to irritate those who believe language can and should be cast in stone. Change is an evolutional imperative.

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