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--- On Thu, 9/25/08, Dmitri Ivanov <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> --- In [log in to unmask], Jens Wilkinson
> <jenswilkinson@...> wrote:
> >
> > On Sat, Sep 13, 2008 at 4:05 AM, Olivier Simon
> <cafaristeir@...>wrote:
> > 
> > >
> > >
> > > There is something very interesting here: about
> brevity.
> > > I think that brevity is a quality that auxlangers
> should take into
> account.
> > > hat's
> > > what I have tried to do with sambahsa.
> > > I suppose that people won't be eager to give
> up languages like
> English or
> > > even
> > > French for an auxlang that uses twice more time
> to tell the same
> thing (ex:
> > > the "Italian-like" Esperanto)....
> > >
> > 
> > I wonder how important brevity really is. This is
> something
> anecdotal, but
> > for instance, it seems to me that Filipinos (who have
> a language
> with long
> > words) tend to speak syllables faster than Chinese
> (who have a quite
> compact
> > language). So I'm wondering, are there languages
> that transmit
> information
> > faster than others (in speech, not writing) or is
> there a sort of
> constant
> > law where people speaking languages with long words
> say the words more
> > quickly? I don't know how true this is, but I
> think when people speak
> > English, which is fairly compact, they tend to put a
> lot of "um"s
> and things
> > like that, the implication being that they are not
> using the
> language at the
> > maximum possible speed anyway. I looked around a bit
> on the
> Internet, but
> > couldn't find anything about this issue. Does
> anybody have any ideas
> about
> > this?
> > 
> It may be true that speakers of different languages convey
> information
> at approximately the same speed. But brevity has to do not
> only with
> speed but also with shorter forms. I think that there is a
> tendency in
> many languages towards shorter forms (words and
> expressions). That's
> why they use abbreviations. 

This is Zipf In Action: Common forms are shorter.

You can judge better than me
> whether such
> a tendency exists in English and Japanese. It would be
> interesting to
> know the same about Filipino. What I notice is that often
> they post
> here awkward headings from the news. What is it if not a
> tendency
> towards shorter way of saying things? If expressed longer,
> those
> headings would be not ambiguous, but they want them short. 
> In Mandarin, sometimes a combination of two 2-syllabled
> words gives
> not a 4- but 2-syllabled word.
> Shorter words more easily catch on and spread. For example,
> I doubt
> that the term "stress" would have spread that
> widely if Hans Selye
> named it with a longer word like
> "adaptosyndrome".
> It seems to me that slangs, as kind of new languages, are
> usually
> short. E.g. in a Russian slang they may say
> "chel" instead of
> "chelovek" (man).

But language is made up of contradictory tendencies. For example, there are a number of slang terms in English for dying and getting drunk, and most of them are longer than the direct phrasing. Also, there are pleonastic forms to lengthen an overly-short expression. "Personal Identification Number" was too long, so it became "PIN." But that was too short, so now people say "PIN number" with a redundant final element. (Nor is this entirely an attempt to avoid confusion with the old word "pin." There's also "Vehicle Identification Number" or VIN, which usually comes out "VIN number." There is no commonly used word "vin" in English.)

So I would suggest that every language has a number of syllables, moras, whatever that is considered average. Anything above that is a long word; anything below is short. At a sheer guess, I'd say the typical average is two or three syllables (three if metrically short).

There are other considerations as well. For example, in headlines and texting, brevity is unusually desirable, though for different reasons. Headline writers want to get your attention and make you want to read the article. That's why some bad headlines are probably intentional: you're puzzled or amused, so you read at least the first paragraph or so. In texting, you just want to reduce the workload on your thumbs.

Steve