I am looking for a word that can be used to describe a system (or a model) with a small number of rules or assumptions. For example, the number of grammatical rules in Japanese is much lower than in Russian.

The meaning I want is close to: concise, succinct or terse, except that these words specifically mean "expressed in few words," while I am looking for something that is more abstract, and describes the low count of assumptions, rules, and statements.

Saying "Japanese is a more concise language than Russian" would mean that ideas can be expressed with fewer words in Japanese than they can in Russian, which is not at all what I want to say.

  • 2
    Anything wrong with simple? Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 15:17
  • 3
    I am confused. Are you looking for a general word for a system with a small number of rules, as your first sentence suggests, or for a highly specialized word targeted specifically at pointing out the difference between Japanese and Russian? Please clarify. I also reject your premise that "the number of grammatical rules in Japanese is much lower than in Russian". Japanese might be less inflecting than Russian, but that doesn't mean that it has fewer rules.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 15:21
  • languages comparison is an example.
    – user93422
    Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 16:21
  • @Alain Pannetier: Simple is to general. I am looking for a description of one particular aspect.
    – user93422
    Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 16:22
  • I don't know about a single word, I would say that "Japanese is more structurally coherent than Russian", in that it requires fewer rules to frame the language; I'm aware that this is a different sense than you intended, but it's just food for thought.
    – Lou
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 11:08

3 Answers 3


Parsimonious. It's a ridiculously useful word. Wiktionary:

parsimonious ‎(comparative more parsimonious, superlative most parsimonious)

  1. Using a minimal number of assumptions, steps, or conjectures.

I would say it:

Japanese is a more syntactically concise language than Russian

Thus specifying what is concise about the language.

  • Syntax rules are just subset of all rules pertinent to a language. Plus I used language only as an example, I need a generally applicable term.
    – user93422
    Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 16:23

I have heard programming languages described is minimal or minimalist.

I bring up programming languages because describing a programming language as minimal versus terse would be two very different things. To my ears, a terse language implies one that takes few keystrokes to achieve a result (likely requiring short, but numerous, keywords), where as a minimal language would be one that defines very few keywords (possibly leading the code you write to be rather verbose). I think that matches your example, with Japanese being the terse language.

From the Lisp Wikipedia page, comparing it to another programming language:

Scheme (designed earlier) is a more minimalist design, with a much smaller set of standard features[...]

Wikipedia Page: Lisp

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