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Redundancy in an Alien Language

March 24, 2012

I am not talking about oxymoron-type redundancy (“Please prepay in  advance“) but the one inherent in the  language structure (grammar) such as “those two dogs” (see there are three places that show pluralism). Irregular  variation of verbs, gender variation, postpositions, etc. are all inherent redundancy, which you cannot avoid in a sentence even with perfect grammar without any unnecessary words or duplication.

We know that redundancy in languages, whether it is inherent or over-emphasizing duplication, is invented to overcome the noisy  environment and to improve the efficiency of transmission. When I say noisy, it does not mean only in sound but more diverse conditions which possibly can prevent communication. For example, when a speaker is in a certain posture,  the pronunciation is harder to understand. Or when the listener’s mind is switching on and off with distractions, he or  she can catch only intermittent words spoken, etc.

I wonder if linguists have done some research comparing the amount of inherent redundancy components (can it even be defined quantitatively at all?)  between different languages.  Would it be similar for all languages? Would it be different significantly? If different, in what way? If they are in  similar level then can we think this as a characteristic of us human being? Then when we made a first contact with an alien civilization can we tell something about their environment just by analyzing their inherent redundancy in their language?   Or would their first language sent to us be similar to computer programming languages which extremely suppress any kind of redundancy? Just fun to think about it.

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