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When langage is used for comparatively narrow professsional purposes there is a tendency to limit the number of terms used and to give them more precise and constant meaning. We say that the language is being formalized. If this process is carried through to its logical conclusion, the language will be completely formalized, or formal. A language is formal if its usage relies only on the `form' of linguistic objects, and not their intuitive meanings.

To make this definition precise, we must specify a set of perceptions (that is abstractions) and

actions which are registered and performed in the same way by all members of the society whom the languages serves. We shall refere to these perceptions and actions as universally defined. A language is formal if all the processes involved in its usage, namely the representation function R(w), the modelling function M(r), and (for command languages) the set of possible actions are expressed in terms of universally defined perceptions and actions.

We usually assume that universally defined perceptions and actions can be relegated to the machine. The question is still open whether this is a realistic assumption. We accept it with a qualification that if there is a doubt about a specific abstraction or action, it nust be excluded from the universally defined set. The a formal language is a language usable by a properly constructed machine. A machine of that kind becomes an objective model of reality, independent from the human brain which created it. This makes possible a series of consecutive metasystem transitions, where each next level deals with a well-defined, objective reality of the previous levels. Thus the language becomes an ultrametasystem, exhibiting the stair-case effect (see [Tur77]) and an explosive growth in volume and power. Just as mastering the general principle of using tools to make better tools gives rise to consecutive metasystem transitions and the creation of industrial system, so mastering the principle of describing (modelling) by means of a formalized language gives rise to the creation of the hierarchical system of formal languages on which the modern science is based.

Copyright© 1991 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

V. Turchin,

Sep 1991


Metasystem Transition Theory



Human language

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Measuring formality through word frequencies


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