Saturday, October 07, 2006

everything can be said

"all other animals use one call for one message as the general principle of communication. this means that the number of possible messages is very restricted. if a new message is to be included in the system, a new sound has to be introduced too. after the first few tens of sounds it becomes difficult to invent new distinctive sounds, and also to remember them for the next time they are needed.

human speech builds on the principle of combining a restricted number of sounds into an unlimited number of messages. in a typical human language there are something like thirty or forty distinctive speech sounds. these sounds can be combined into chains to form a literally unlimited number of words...

in addition to this human languages also allow several words to be combined into an utterance. through this process we are able to create an infinite number of sentences with even a small number of words. this basic property of (human) languages allows them to express ideas that can be as complex and as subtle as anyone wants. the system has no theoretical limits as to what messages can be conveyed. in principle everything can be said."

from tore janson, speak

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