The Brain and Efficient Communication

Computer scientists and cognitive scientists at the University of Rochester are using data science to help make the world a better, more connected, and healthier place.


Using an artificial language in a carefully controlled laboratory experiment, a team from the University of Rochester and Georgetown University has shown that many changes to language are simply the brain’s way of ensuring that communication is as sufficiently precise and concise as possible.

“Our research illustrates that humans choose to reshape language when the structure is either overly redundant or confusing,” says T. Florian Jaeger, associate professor in the Departments of Linguistics, Computer Science, and Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

For instance, when people turn ‘automobile’ into ‘auto,’ use informal contractions, swallow syllables, or take other linguistic shortcuts, their brains are striving for simplicity and meaning. Recent research has shown that these types of shortcuts appear only when their meaning is easily inferable from the context.

In related research, Steven Piantadosi, assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has used big language data (the Google Ngram database) to explore this question.

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