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2. Contrast

Daniel Currie Hall

Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Phonology

Key-Topics formal grammars

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184236.2011.00004.x


Václav Havel's play The memorandum ( Havel 1966 ) imagines a dysfunctional bureaucracy that suffers from, among other things, the imposition of two quite different but equally perverse artificial languages. The first of these, called Ptydepe, is designed to maximize redundancy, and thus distinctiveness. Every word of Ptydepe must differ from every other word of the same length by at least 60 percent. To mitigate the sesquipedalian consequences of this restriction, forms are allocated to meanings according to frequency; the shortest word of Ptydepe is gh , which means ‘whatever’ (Czech cokoliv ). Ptydepe is eventually deposed as the official medium of communication, and replaced by Chorukor, which represents something like the opposite extreme. Words in Chorukor are minimally distinct, and semantically related words cluster particularly closely together; for example, the names of the days of the week differ from one another by only a single vowel. If a typographical error should cause a meeting scheduled for Friday to happen on Tuesday instead, then, the rationalization goes, that is only all the more efficient. No natural human language is quite like either Ptydepe or Chorukor, but contrast and redundancy have been the subjects of considerable attention, and controversy, in the study of natural language phonology. In 1985, for example, Stephen Anderson's influential history ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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