How to speak volumes while saying little to none?
Well, language efficiency is something that we may not be aware of enough to appreciate it. And while each language’s main function is to convey meaning, some do it better than others.
In this article, we’ll find out about the following:
- What is an efficient language?
- What is the most efficient language in the world?
- What is the most efficient spoken language?
- What is the most efficient written language?
- What language is a language with the fewest words?
- Why can’t we make a new language more efficient and easy to learn?
- Is there an efficient invented language?
Table of Contents:
What is an efficient language?
Different languages may vary in terms of the level of detail they provide in each sentence.
But would an efficient language mean that it has to be a language with the fewest words? Or it is that a language gets more efficient over time?
As a matter of fact, the most efficient language would be the one that gives you the biggest amount of information with the lowest effort possible.
Let’s see below.
Same meaning, different languages, fewer words
Let’s compare the same sentence in English and German to answer the question, “what is an efficient language?”.
Here’s the sentence in English:
The mother said, “Look over there”.
And in German:
Die Mutter sagte: “Schauen Sie dort hin”.
The German version seems like the exact equivalent of the English sentence. However, there’s way more happening in the German version than meets the eye.
Die would be an equivalent of The, but in the German language, we can choose from more alternatives. Die is used for feminine singular nouns only, whereas The can be used for any type of noun.
The German equivalent of said has a third-person suffix, whereas the English word is a past participle used for each person. If we wanted to say You said, then it would be Du sagtest.
The above example proves that German speakers have to pay attention to more factors in order to express a simple thought.
Romance language face-off: Why English won?
So, what is an efficient language? Or what is the most efficient type of spoken language?
On the basis of English, we can say that the most efficient language would be the one that makes you express meaning without paying too much attention to each part of the sentence.
We say that a machine is efficient because it achieves maximum productivity with minimum effort. We also say that a person is efficient because he or she works in a well-organized way.
In the same way, English is efficient because it makes you quickly (and successfully) convey meaning with very little effort.
So, the most efficient language would also be the one that needs a lesser amount of syllables to convey a meaning.
On the basis of the above sentences in English and German, we can see that the English version has fewer syllables than the German one.
Why it matters?
Language efficiency may only be relevant for those who learn it. It gets easier when you know that you have to know only 2 articles, which are irrelevant to, for instance, gender.
I guess it wouldn’t matter if this toungue with difficult rules was your native language. You would aquire those rules from birth.
In German, we need to remember 3 articles, but that’s not all. Each of them is reserved for a different gender.
So, we have Der (masculine), Die (feminine), and Das (neutral). All plural nouns, however, have the same article — Die, so that’s easy.
And it’s not at the same time, because that’s another thing to remember.
Each person has a different ending for a present-tense verb in German. And that only applies to regular verbs. There are a bunch of irregular verbs in German.
Here’s an example of a German verb conjugation.
Let’s take the regular verb kommen (come) for example (we’ll bold the verb ending):
- 1st person singular: Ich komme
- 2nd person singular: Du kommst
- 3rd person singular: Er kommt
- 1st person plural: Wir kommen
- 2nd person plural: Ihr kommt
- 3rd person plural: Sie kommen
In English, we only need to remember to add s in the third-person singular (and about a couple of irregular verbs, but we’ll let that slide).
English seems to be a more efficient spoken language than German. The latter seems to be complicating things too much, which forces a bigger number of syllables to convey information.
What is the world’s most efficient language?
Most of you probably came here to get an answer to this question. So let’s find out.
In 2010, François Pellegrino, Christophe Coupé, and Egidio Marsico, researchers from the University of Lyon, tried to determine the information density of seven languages: English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, and German.
English won. But not by much.
It turned out that all of these languages have a similar information density to one another. Except for Japanese, which landed way behind the other languages.
Have a look at the below table:
Despite the fact that English turned out to be the most efficient language out of the 7 examined, others came pretty close to it.
What’s interesting is that the languages which have a lower information rate, tend to be spoken at a way faster rate (especially Spanish, French, and Japanese).
But what if we wanted to have a really efficient language? We’ll probably have to create one.
Is there an efficient invented language?
Now that we know English is probably the most efficient language in the world, let’s see if there are other languages that can beat it.
As we said, earlier, the most efficient language would be the one that needs fewer syllables to convey certain information.
And languages that probably do that best are invented. Let’s examine 3 invented languages that aim at being more efficient than the natural ones.
Example of an efficient invented language
John Quijada created an experimental, no-nonsense language called Ithkuil. It is designed to convey meaning as briefly as possible.
It is a spoken language designed to be more efficient than real-world languages. But did it work?
Despite the fact that Ithkuil is an efficient invented language, it is as alive as natural languages.
If we’re speaking in terms of syllables, Ithkuil may be both the most efficient spoken language and the most efficient written language. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to learn, as it has complex grammar and an extensive set of phoneme creation rules.
Nevertheless, it attempts to lessen semantic ambiguity in real-world languages. In fact, Ithkuil can express complex ideas using very few linguistic symbols.
Let’s take a look at the following example. This is a two-word Ithikuili sentence:
Which in English means:
On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point.
As you can see, Ithkuil does its job very well and there’s no doubt that it is an efficient invented language.
However, it has been deemed too complex to be actually learned (although it is possible). As a matter of fact, the only person that has ever used Ithkuil is its creator, John Quijada.
Well, Quijada did not intend Ithkuil to be an auxiliary language (such as, for instance, Esperanto). He wanted it to be used when expressing more profound and complex ideas in fields such as philosophy, science, and politics.
Last, but not least, let’s see what the word Ithkuil means. Quijada claims that it is equivalent to a “hypothetical representation of a language”.
You can learn more about this peculiar language from its official website.
Why can’t we make a new language more efficient and easy to learn?
Well, we can.
And we did.
Despite the fact that Ithkuil is very efficient, it is unfortunately very hard to learn. There is, however, a language that is easy to learn, but not as efficient.
You guys may be familiar with Esperanto. It was created in the 19th by the Warsaw-based ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof.
It is the most widely spoken language that was created artificially. Its main goal is to promote world peace by creating a language that would be common to all nations.
It is easy to learn and derives from a variety of Indo-European languages. When it comes to efficiency, it is not as economical as Ithkuil or the language we’ll examine next.
A language with the fewest words
Meet Toki Pona, a language with the fewest words in the world. It is known for its small vocabulary, simplicity, and ease of acquisition.
So, how many words does Toki Pona have?
A total of 120! But what was the idea behind creating a language with such a small word count?
How was this language created?
This language was created by Sonja Lang, a Canadian linguist. It was designed to simplify communication, bring people of different cultures together, and help its users concentrate on basic things.
Lang created this language in order to simplify her thoughts during periods of depression.
Contrary to Esperanto, Toki Pona was not created as an auxiliary language. One of its biggest goals is to promote positive thinking, in accordance with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.
This hypothesis states that the structure of a language influences its speakers’ cognition. Therefore, their worldview depends on the language that they’re using.
If their means of communication are complicated then their thoughts would also be complex. They might also view life as overcomplicated.
Let’s now see what the “Toki Pona” word mean.
The name of the language with the fewest words means “a good language” or “simple language”. It stresses the fact that simplicity is good and encourages its users to find joy in simple things.
The most efficient written language?
While Toki Pona may be considered the most efficient spoken language, there is a writing system called sitelen pona, which may in turn be the most efficient written language.
Lang wrote in her book “Toki Pona – The Language of Good” that sitelen pona is “a hieroglyphic-like script that makes use of squiggles and other childlike shapes” (source: Toki Pona – The Language of Good, S. Lang, 2014).
Here’s a word Toki Pona written in sitelen pona:
Each word of Toki Pona is represented there with its own unique symbol. Proper names are written using a cartouche-like symbol including other symbols, each representing a single word of this name.
So, for instance, in the above name of this language with the fewest words, the smiley face means pona, and the circle with three lines on top of it — toki.
So, what is the most efficient language in the world?
The goal of spoken human language is to convey meaning and information. The most efficient language would be the one that does with little to no effort.
While some spoken languages do it well, others may require uttering too many syllables to give simple information.
Based on the study mentioned earlier in the article, we may argue that English is the most efficient language in the world. However, the study considered only the most popular languages.
Also, languages evolve, so it’s possible that a given language gets more efficient over time.
When it comes to invented languages, is Toki Pona a more efficient spoken language than Esperanto or Ithkuil? It may be!
Not only is it simple to learn, but its vocabulary consists of merely 120 words! Apparently, you don’t need more to get people to understand you.
The most efficient written language would be sitelen pona as it represents the words of Toki Pona in a simple and straightforward manner. It doesn’t get any simpler than using childlike symbols.
Who knows, maybe one day both Toki Pona and Ithkuil will be among the spoken languages of Vasco Translator. You can, however, always translate photos from Esperanto.
In a nutshell:
What is the most efficient language in the world? It is one that conveys meaning with the least amount of effort. From real-world languages, English came out on top in 2010 in a study of the 7 most popular languages. However, it may be possible for languages to become more efficient over time. As for invented languages, Ithkuil was created to convey complex ideas with few symbols, but it is hard to learn. On the other hand, Toki Pona is a language with only 120 words and its written form, sitelen pona, is also efficient. It is designed to bring people of different cultures together and promote positive thinking. So, the most efficient languages may vary depending on the purpose they are intended for, but English is probably the most efficient one in the world.