Every language (I know of) needs a context or a mark of reference for understanding a lot of the expressed message.

I'm refering about concepts like I, you, this, there, tomorrow...

I'd bet there is no organic language that doesn't use such contextual words. Still, though, I wondered:

  • Is there any constructed language that has no word context-dependant?
  • If there is: How does it manage to express common messages?
  • If there isn't: Would it be possible to have such language?
  • 2
    Are you asking if there's a language without deixis? If a language had no referring expressions, well it couldn't refer to anything, in the real world or otherwise.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 4, 2018 at 23:54
  • 1
    It sounds to me like formal languages used eg for knowledge representation. These have no context to refer to, so no such words/operators are used. Jun 5, 2018 at 11:49

2 Answers 2


Firstly, I have thought about this too before. Actually, only one word is needed for all of I, you, this, there, tomorrow, etc. You can analyse these as I, (the person I am referring to), (the thing I am referring to at/by/on ME), (the place I am referring to not at/by/on ME), (the day which is one day later than the day I am in). This goes for most words like those.

  • Not that I know of. But let's create one for demonstration purposes: Loj-ban mi. It is Lojban, but there's a ban on the word mi (and vi, and ti, and other words incorporating mi as said above).

  • It would be able to express concepts like 'Bananas grow on trees', as this doesn't depend on the concept I. However, saying stuff like My name is Santa Claus., It's going well. and What are we doing tomorrow? would be impossible.
    We could replace it with other concepts, for example, 'the speaker/writer'. But this is ambiguous, take this sentence: I don't know who said that, but the speaker is in big trouble when I find out!. (And, pulling it off correctly, it nevertheless depends on context). Names can be used, so the answer is actually yes. 'Tomorrow' would have to be expressed as a date, 'this' would have to be 'The plate on the table in the house of Joe Example, etc.

  • Yes, as we proved above with Loj-ban mi, it is possible. Would it be learnable? Probably. But not usable in practice.

  • Maybe people can be refered always by name and days always by date. Even though that would be still impossible for big communities, I can imagine a small community being able to always name people and, when needed, refering to people by their fathers and so on (maybe to the point of some kind of "Adam and Eve", or "Founding Fathers").
    – Masclins
    Jun 4, 2018 at 17:26
  • "The" is itself context-dependent, or deictic. So, replacing "I" with "the speaker" doesn't actually solve the problem.Always using an explicit name instead of any pronominal phrases, however, might work. Jun 4, 2018 at 18:48
  • @AlbertMasclans Wouldn't such metonymy also be context dependent to some degree?
    – Sparksbet
    Jun 4, 2018 at 19:57
  • Names are still referring expressions.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 4, 2018 at 23:54
  • @LoganR.Kearsley I know, that's why 'the speaker' is contextual, see my example phrase in my answer. If we'd say 'this (me) speaker', it'd work, but again, we've reached context-dependism (my new cult).
    – Duncan
    Jun 6, 2018 at 17:58

All human communication is context-dependent. A context-independent language would be ununderstandable (by humans, at least).

My anser to this question, Can all sentences be represented logically? deals with this problem; the basic reasoning comes from Hubert Dreyfus, What computers cannot do, via Setargew Kenaw Fantaw.

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