I love minimalistic code. It's just that not everything can be minimalistic ... which is why Larry uses Huffman coding as a language design principle so that "things that are commonly used, or when you have to type them very often -- the common things need to be shorter or more succinct".
I suggested named arguments for split not substr. For substr, I suggested having string slices built into the language (as Python and Ruby do).
I'm not a language designer -- and splitting a string is a common operation -- so I'm sure there are better ways to fix split than my suggestion of named parameters. Unfortunately, in addition to being common, it's a lot more complex than substr. Designing a good split function is a hard problem. While Guido "solved" the problem for Python by dumbing down split, I see that perl 6 split handles the complexity by using "one of the :k, :v, :kv, :p adverbs" to control behaviour (update: I don't know what that means, later it says "A number of optional named parameters can be specified, which alter the result being returned" (including :skip-empty)).