Is there work being done to help remove all the ambiguities and loose meaning of the English language by using low to mid level computer programming languages (avoiding more recent "high level" scripting languages) as a positive model? For example, you know how we all wish every single word and phrase could only have one meaning, that only that word or phrase could have that exact meaning, and that the meaning of a word or phrase could never change over time or shift during the context of a conversation?

Perhaps programming language designers could work with linguists and provide a solution. Imagine we could communicate in an extremely precise, rigidly defined, and totally unambiguous language when communicating with others. We would no longer have need of loud volume, tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, or hand gestures as a sloppy crutch and communication would be less imprecise, more consistent, and less emotional.

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    We do not wish for words to have a single "meaning", and the language would not serve most of our needs if they did. Ambiguity and loose meaning in English, and other natural languages, is a feature and not a bug. They have to be usable in a wide variety of contexts, often not foreseeable in advance, and the size of vocabulary our memory can handle is limited, so it better be highly pliable. Ambiguity is often resolved by context and non-verbal cues, also by design, and when higher precision is needed, as in mathematics, specialized dialects are developed.
    – Conifold
    Mar 11, 2020 at 3:57
  • Loose meaning is the stomping ground of demagogues and sleezy conmen. I say we should strive for positive clarity, rather than negativity and slimy word games. Mar 11, 2020 at 5:50
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    That’s fine as regards your own linguistic practice, but 1) who is “we”, and 2) who are you to impose this on English as a language? What you’re suggesting is a political act, not a scientific one. Mar 11, 2020 at 6:32
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    No, I don’t think you understand - that is political too, because you’ve decided that the “best” language for English is one chosen by some particular metric. It doesn’t matter if it’s by decree or by contest; you already claim the right of determination as to what language should be, when whole communities of speakers exist that might disagree. Mar 11, 2020 at 8:06
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    Language prescriptivism inevitably fails. It's a complicated topic why, but the gist of it is that a language is essentially a flexible collection of idiolects that are constantly evolving for psychological and social reasons. The language instinct is so strong and adaptive, that a group of children without language will spontaneously invent one. Any attempt to impose language rules would require political agreement, and would fail.
    – J D
    Mar 11, 2020 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


A language that is "precise, rigidly defined, and totally unambiguous" would be unable to say anything meaningful at all. Consider a simple phrase like "a red ball": would we need to have separate phrases for each and every possible ball, of each and every possible shade of red? How many words would we need in our language for that? How would we be sure that what we mean by our precise and exacting specification, is precisely and exactly what another person means by the same precise and exacting specification? Looseness in language is what allows us to communicate: I can say "give me the red ball" and you will hand me the closest thing that looks vaguely like a red ball, without a whole lot of cross-talk or confusion. That kind of vagueness is functional.

  • Many computer programming languages are very precise, rigidly defined, and unambiguous. Not only do they say something, they explain it in intricate detail to the point that even a computer can understand it sufficiently to execute the task. That it pretty meaningful in my opinion. Mar 15, 2020 at 4:43
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    @AbercrombieDorfen: First, computers don't (currently) 'understand' anything. They are not self-reflective; they are extremely sophisticated abacuses. Second, do you have any idea how many lines of code are needed to get a computer to pick out a red ball in an image? It takes that many lines because programming languages are precise, rigidly defined, and unambiguous. Look up fuzzy reasoning; lots of interesting work written on that topic. Mar 15, 2020 at 16:11
  • Programming langugaes can explain something even to a computer. They don't rely on the computer making an untold number of assumptions, inferences and guesses. As far as the number of lines of code required to program computers, I have written programs used in production that contain several hundred thousand lines of code. I understand that the number of lines can become large. I once offered to re-write instructions for user documentation. I turned a 3 page document into a 600 page manual and was not yet finished. People assumed that I had made it more complex. I had made it easier. Mar 22, 2020 at 20:35

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