Sometimes I’m best at pointing out the obvious – this may be one of those times.

I read a sentence today in The Economist and realized why people (nerds of a certain sort, always) invent “logical” languages.

The most famous example of an artificially constructed “logical” language is probably Lojban/Loglan– but the earliest example I’ve heard of was John Wilkin’s Real Character, around 1668.  These things seem to be created by small groups of fanatics who think their language will change the world and make people more rational.

Here’s the sentence:

For the past few decades the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has been shifting the way in which winds move round the continent, driving them round the Southern Ocean ever faster.

Earlier in the issue there’d been something about the direction of antarctic winds reversing, so I read “way” to mean “direction”.  Later in the sentence, it becomes clear that “way” refers to speed, not direction.

“Way” is in this case ambiguous.  A better writer would have been specific and said “speed” instead.

A logical language can make this kind of ambiguity impossible.  You avoid including vague and ambiguous words and constructions, forcing writers to say what they mean (in theory, anyway).

But this is (a) completely unnecessary, and (b) doomed to failure.

It is perfectly possible to write clearly and unambiguously in English or any naturally evolved language.  It takes a little extra effort – the writer has to think about what she really means.  People fail to write clearly because they are lazy, rushed, attempting to hide their own confusion, or simply bad at expressing themselves.  These human failings will not disappear with the invention of a new language.

Evolved languages have ambiguity for good reasons – it serves the purpose of writers and speakers.  Any new language without this flexibility would quickly (assuming it were adopted at all)  grow to include it.

One Response to “Why people invent “logical” languages”

  1. Brian Barker Says:

    I continue to think that the choice of the future global language must be between English or Esperanto rather than an untried project 🙂

    Your readers may be interested in Dr Kvasnak teaches English at Florida Atlantic University.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

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