Chart: The Art of "'Sup"

Your English may be crisper than Shakespeare's.

By Lauren F. Friedman, published on March 11, 2013 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The tendency toward efficient communication—conveying the maximum amount of information with minimal effort—is so deeply ingrained that it could help explain why similarities are found between unrelated languages and why certain linguistic changes are favored over time. Maryia Fedzechkina, T. Florian Jaeger, and Elissa Newport, a team of cognitive scientists from the University of Rochester and Georgetown, tested the existence of such an efficiency bias by teaching lab subjects a small artificial language. The result, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that participants instinctively disposed of many potentially confounding inefficiencies, improving the language as they spoke it. Below, a quick look at how such on-the-fly ingenuity is baked right into the way we communicate in English.