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Grammatically logical - this is possible, vs zeh yachol lhiyot. Let's break down the English way for a moment -- the words don't actually connect with each other in a logical sequence. 'This is' has no meaning on its own, whereas in Hebrew the literal translation is 'this possible is', like Yoda. IMO this way is more logical when you break down the words one by one and think about it a little. I don't know the terminology for this perhaps someone who actually studied this stuff in school can chime in.

I also speak Yiddish, now in Yiddish one would say 'dos iz meglech' -- this is possible, like English, I assume because both English and Yiddish are Germanic languages.

Example of efficiency of Hebrew compared to English - the table vs hashulkhan, in English it's two words, in Hebrew it's one.

Example two - "in English" vs "Bi'englit", same thing as before. Again, someone who actually studied this in school can probably provide us with the correct terms for these two different styles.

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    Surely "the table" and ha-shulkhan are both three syllables? Likewise "in English" and bi-'Englit? The only difference is whether you consider the prefix a separate word or not.
    – Draconis
    Mar 3, 2022 at 2:43
  • @Draconis yes they are both three syllables, but there is a brief pause between two words, in Hebrew it's one seamless word, without break or pause. Mar 3, 2022 at 2:45

1 Answer 1

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The short answer is no, all languages are about equally efficient. All natural languages are under a similar evolutionary pressure, to communicate information efficiently. Speakers need to convey information as quickly as possible—but not so quickly that the listener loses track or misses things. The result is that spoken languages across the world end up conveying information at approximately the same rate, no matter how many syllables or how many words they use to express a concept: 39.15±5.10 bits per second. Speak too much slower than this, and it's inefficient; speak too much faster than this, and information will get lost and need to be repeated. See Coupé et al 2019 for full details (it's a fascinating study).

(As a side note, Coupé et al focused on spoken language, since it's not clear how exactly to apply information-theoretic measures to signed languages. It's possible this ideal information transmission rate is limited by our auditory processing mechanisms, and signed languages might be significantly faster or significantly slower. An interesting topic for future research.)

Similarly, people tend to consider the grammar of their first language more "logical" than any alternatives. But again, all languages are under the same evolutionary pressures: to communicate information efficiently, and to be learnable by the next generation. The result is that all languages with native speakers end up accumulating similar levels of exceptions and irregularities over time.

There have been some attempts to quantify this, with generally less success than information rate; see Shosted 2005 among others. But the evidence is strong that all natural spoken languages are about equally good at conveying information, whether or not any substring of a sentence can be meaningful on its own or not (which I think is what your example is taking about).

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  • Thanks for the info I appreciate it! I want to point out that even though my username is Hebrew, Hebrew isn't my first language, English is. I'm actually working on a YA novel currently, although my vocabulary isn't as developed as yours due to the sort of religious school I was sent to in my youth. What's crazy is that my username on an online writing community is Ohr_Drakonis!! I do love to speak Hebrew though it's so beautiful and sexy. Mar 3, 2022 at 4:43
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    Hmmm… do you have a source for the claim about languages developing similar levels of irregularities and exceptions over time? And what do you mean by ‘over time’ exactly? Languages like Chinese, which have virtually no morphology at all, have much less wiggle room in which to be irregular than highly inflected languages like Ancient Greek. Finnish has irregularities and exceptions, but they’re fairly few; Old Irish is virtually made up of nothing but irregularities and exceptions, at least where the verb is concerned. Mar 3, 2022 at 10:32
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I've seen several attempts to quantify that, most of which didn't really succeed. But even languages without much morphology can have weird eccentricities; Mandarin has erhua, for example, a phonological process only used for one suffix and two or three other words that differs wildly between varieties.
    – Draconis
    Mar 3, 2022 at 16:51
  • @Draconis Sure, there are eccentricities even in Mandarin, though I’m not sure erhua really counts as one – the phonological process is regular, and having a derivational suffix being more or less productive between variants isn’t really an ‘irregularity’ in the language to me. Things like 有 having its own special negator 没 is more classical irregularity. But even so, comparing it to Old Irish – where you more or less need to learn every form of even ‘regular’ verb separately because they’re so unguessable – I don’t see how anyone could say they’re at similar levels. Mar 3, 2022 at 17:00
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    I also would be interested in learning more about the state of the research. I think, however, that the term "irregularity" is bias toward morphology and think measuring "arbitrariness" should be closer to the goal. If we take Mandarin for example, the extreme level of its homonyms induces arbitrariness that has driven such changes such as random erhua or adding -zi to morphemes or alternating one and two syllable expressions for the same referent. With Old Irish, adding unusual phonetic rules and adding forms to the lexis significantly reduces the arbitrariness that appears on the surface. Mar 3, 2022 at 17:24

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