Skip to content

Ideal Language and the Possibility of Deceit

Should an ideal human language allow deception?

I say yes. What’s the point of language? To allow a speaker to induce a mental state in a listener. At its most basic level, this allows communication of basic concepts, plans, and facts. At more advanced levels, it can be used to induce emotions or to persuade. My thesis is that an ideal human language allows the speaker to induce the mental state they desire with minimal effort.

I’ve got a good friend who disagrees. He says that an ideal human language is expressive and unambiguous and by its nature prevents logical fallacies and misdirection. Even if falsehoods are possible, they will at least be cumbersome and difficult to express. His thesis is that an ideal human language is so inherently communicative it is akin to telepathy: the partitions necessary in order to mislead are intentionally difficult to erect.

What do you think?

RSS feed


Comment by Explodicle Windows XP Internet Explorer 7.0
2009-12-16 09:47:50

It sounds like he’d be a fan of Loglan (and its successor Lojban). Loglan was invented in 1955 as part of an experiment to see if people would actually think more logically if they had to phrase their wording in a logical language.

I think whether or not this is ideal depends on the situation. As an engineer, rationalist, and terrible liar, I would prefer to convey most of my ideas this way. But there are plenty of cases (theater, poetry, etc) where you’re certainly correct.

Comment by coriolinus Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.5.6 Subscribed to comments via email
2009-12-17 03:45:04

Lojban seems interesting. I love the notion that translation, at least from it to a natural language, is a compiler problem!

I can’t seem to find any empirical results from the experiment which birthed Loglan as a side effect. Do you know of any?

Comment by Explodicle Windows XP Internet Explorer 7.0
2009-12-17 09:22:56

Not to the best of my knowlege, no. I don’t even know how such a thing could be measured.

Comment by coriolinus Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.5.6
2009-12-20 21:54:41

I can think of a way; it’d just be impractically expensive. It runs like this: set up two identical Truman Show towns. Give a convincing reason why people can never leave: “you’re a mars colony” or something. In both, all adults are actors, not part of the test set. In one, the only spoken language is English. In the other, the only spoken or written language is Lojban. Wait 25 years or so, then test the logical capability of both populations of youngsters.

Even if only for the Truman Show footage it generates it’d be a fun experiment to be a part of.

Comment by Mom Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.5.5
2009-12-17 08:10:23

I think free will is basic to being human, including the will do communicate what we want in language.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.