Do We Expect Alien Languages to Have Homophones?

At first glance, homophones seem like a bad idea. Why do we expect alien languages to probably have homophones?

Homophones are words that sound the same but are different in meaning. They are used due to a limited number of sounds within a language. One of the main points from Gibson’s paper was to say that there is a tradeoff between word length and understanding. The shorter the word in length, the more confusable it is. For example, legal contracts tend to be long but very clear. Research has shown that short words tend to be used more than long words and this can lead to a smooth conversation and higher chances for recalling the terms and ideas. Short words can be useful when used in context but confusing if they were used all the time and out of context. For example, nicknames are short and can be used at home. However, referring to someone by their nickname at a university or a large society can be confusing. Full names are longer but clearer for reference. Furthermore, there is a relationship between entropy and context. For example, people tend to remember a sentence with a low information density and find it difficult to recall a sentence that has a high information density because information takes time to process.

I expect advanced aliens to have a large society and in order to communicate, they have to use some kind of language. Also, in a large society, I expect the aliens to use many words, including long words, such as full names in order to distinguish themselves. When a language has many words, homophones can be helpful when used in context. Otherwise, it would take too much energy and time for the alien population to explain everything they say and write. Furthermore, homophones are only helpful if you can distinguish which meaning is intended based on context because if the two words have the same meaning (high relatedness in the meaning), homophones wouldn’t work. An example would be “baseball bat” and the animal “bat”. I can say that I brought my bat to play baseball but it wouldn’t make sense to say that I brought the animal to play baseball. Homophones would not make sense if they were put in the wrong context. Finally, I expect alien languages to use homophones and short words to make as little error as possible since aliens are more likely to make errors when they use sentences that have a higher information density. In other words, homophones are useful when used in context to reduce confusability and time consuming.