I have been listening to Linguistics & Philosophy lecture by Noam Chomsky and he mentions around 1h:08m that it is posited that language productions are actually the most economical way to convey information. I guess this is some more widely known language theory but I am relatively new to the field. I am wondering, in what way exactly these productions are deemed optimal?

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    Note (as we would in Stack Exchange) that claiming anything to be optimal is merely an opinion, unless it be backed up by very strong statistical evidence demonstrating that all other possibilities score lower on some commonly-agreed-upon scale of optimality. To say that Chomsky's claims about optimality do not meet this standard is perhaps unnecessary, but one never knows. While many linguists revere Chomsky, not all agree with him, and many find no evidence to support his theories.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 22:26

1 Answer 1


There is a whole strain of research (represented, e.g., by Florian Jaeger) that regards the communication channel as a Noisy Channel in the sense of Shannon. The uniform information density hypothesis postulates that this Noisy Channel is always optimally used with respect to information, and that speakers adjust their utterances to the channel capacity.

  • Thank you for the hint. I am aware of the Shannon's theory. In more detail, I was wondering about choice of particular features of the language: e.g. phrases, words, etc. that are synonymous yet used much more seldom (or not at all, but allowed by the language rules) that could be rationalized by such a theory. Is that the case with works of Florian Jaeger?
    – sophros
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 17:19
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    Almost every layer of linguistics is affected by this: Starting from phonetics (how careful are some syllables articulated?) over word choice, word order, ellipses, fillers, coreference chains ... there are really a lot of means to modulate information density, and we use them all. Commented May 4, 2021 at 18:01

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