In English, the meaning of pronouns (the antecedents) are understood from context. And, this allows for a more abbreviated and fluid means to communicate. However, even when the antecedents are mutually understood, you still must say the pronouns to follow English sentence structure rules.

In a language such as Japanese, once the context is understood, you only say the words that have new meaning, or clarify meaning. You are not forced to constantly re-state mutually understood meaning.

"See that pink cadillac? It is very fast. Do you like it? Did you know it is on sale."

agh!!! We both know what is fast, what you might like, and what is on sale. But, the English language forces you to pointlessly keep saying "it".

Does this mean that languages such as Japanese are more evolved (towards communicating the same meaning with fewer words). English native speakers are on this path. I mean, they created pronouns to exploit mutually understood meaning. Why else use pronouns?

  • 7
    No, it doesn't mean anytning at all like that. There's no such thing as a language that's "more evolved" than another, just as there's no such thing as a living species that's more evolved than some other. Every language has been evolving for the same length of time. And there is no goal toward which evolution of any sort works; there is sometimes more mutation in one line than another, but if they're not extinct, they're evolved and adapted.
    – jlawler
    Jun 27, 2014 at 22:07
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    See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro-drop_language
    – prash
    Jun 27, 2014 at 23:01
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    @prash: "Pro-drop" is one way to look at some parts of it, but in fact the English situation has nothing to do with pronouns; it's strictly contextual, semantic and pragmatic.
    – jlawler
    Jun 27, 2014 at 23:20
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    The additional expenditure of energy it takes an English speaker to say the words "it is" and "do you ... it" is utterly negligible, so there's no sense in which Japanese is more efficient. (And if the difference wasn't negligible, it would be more than balanced out by the fact that English words are shorter on average than Japanese words.)
    – TKR
    Jun 28, 2014 at 1:50
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    @jlawler That's interesting; I don't think I've ever heard anyone express that kind of preference before (for a language they don't know well over their native language). But I don't see that more inflected languages really leave more to context; I'd say they package the same information in different ways (bound morphemes instead of pronouns/auxiliaries/etc.).
    – TKR
    Jun 28, 2014 at 4:57

2 Answers 2


The responses so far have been that no language is "more evolved" than others. But in fact, no language needs more or less context than another. Context is essential in interpreting all language. What varies is what type of construction needs what type of context.

All languages are redundant. They're just redundant in different places in different ways. A great example is plural marking. Strictly speaking, you almost never need the plural marking to get the plural meaning across. The context almost always provides enough information. And it always does in counting. Thus some languages (like Hungarian or Chinese) don't have plural marking on nouns preceded by numbers. But they may require some other redundant feature such as Chinese structural particles. Most often these contribute to some kind of overall cohesion (agreement, vowel harmony, etc.)

You will find similar variation in gender or tense markings. Some languages always specify a time reference or a category reference, others very rarely do.

Also, you should not that what is obligatory in written language could well not be required in spoken language. So the example you give, would be relatively plausible in certain types of English spoken discourse.


Languages that rely heavily on context, such as Japanese, usually do that because of pressure to be more efficient with utterance time. Japanese has very simple syllable structure and so needs many syllables to state a given thing. To compensate for this it drops redundant information to reduce syllable count (speakers also talk extremely fast in syllables per second). Isolating languages like Chinese face a similar pressure because adding additional information requires adding additional words, which is expensive.

But doing this comes at a cost of clarity. As was stated in another thread, redundancy allows robustness and error correction in communication. Situations where a character only hears part of a discourse and grossly misinterprets what is being said are common in Japanese (and similar languages') comedies, and pro-drop is an especially common cause.

I have become extremely aware of these kinds of pressures and tradeoffs in the design of my isolating constructed language Caia.

  • Very, very, very long? Jun 29, 2014 at 6:10
  • Aaaand the anime episode I'm watching right this moment contains just such a misunderstanding due to pro-drop. Jun 29, 2014 at 6:15
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    I don't think that your assumptions about efficiency and speed and the need to compensate for higher syllable counts have any basis in the real world or linguistics research. Jul 1, 2014 at 7:37

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