[PLUG-TALK] A Rare Universal Pattern in Human Languages

John Jason Jordan johnxj at gmx.com
Wed Sep 4 20:04:56 PDT 2019

On Wed, 4 Sep 2019 15:21:23 -0700
Galen Seitz <galens at seitzassoc.com> dijo:

>Another one for John...
>"Some languages are spoken more quickly than others, but the rate of 
>information they get across is the same."

My first complaint is that there was no link to the journal article
that The Atlantic referenced, just one mention of François Pellegrino
as the lead author. Searching on the name I found what is probably the
article here:

My second complaint is that, after reading the original article by
Pellegrino, et al., Rachel Gutman (the author of the Atlantic article)
has misrepresented a good deal of what Pellegrino, et al., found in
their research. While looking for their article I was reminded why
Pellegrino's name was familiar to me: His forté is phonology and
phonetics, also one of my main interests. His interests in those
fields, unlike mine, center on seldom discussed languages of Africa and
the south Pacific, in particular, unusual phonological features. His
2011 article is a bit of a departure from his other work.

But of all my complaints, the biggest is the conclusion is Gutman's
misrepresentation that Pellegrino et al. believed that English was a
comparably efficient language. He never said that. If he had said that
his article might not have been accepted for publication in Language,
as the statement is hopelessly indefensible.

What makes a language efficient or inefficient? Ms. Gutman, please
define 'efficiency' with respect to language. E.g., the majority of
English speakers these days have had at least a brief exposure to
Spanish, a language with an inflectional system far more complex than
English. But which is more efficient. In Spanish I can just stick 'ía'
on the end of a verb to express what I have to say in English with
'he/she/it would.' And, because English has lost the massive
inflectional system of its forebear languages, to express many nuances
of meaning it has to rely on a much larger lexicon and many thousands
of set collocations, not to mention its relatively rigid word order.
Given these points (and more that I could easily add), I could just as
easily argue that English is very inefficient. 

Ah well. I should not expect The Atlantic to publish much more than pop

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