future language

From: Douglas P. Wilson (dp-wilson@shaw.ca)
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 11:27:09 BST

  • Next message: Alan Patrick: "Re: Shakers"

    Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id LAA16611 (8.6.9/5.3[ref pg@gmsl.co.uk] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk); Tue, 30 Apr 2002 11:32:18 +0100
    Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 03:27:09 -0700
    From: "Douglas P. Wilson" <dp-wilson@shaw.ca>
    Subject: future language
    To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
    Cc: Robert Neville <rneville@telus.net>
    Message-id: <004f01c1f031$97862820$856c4518@no.shawcable.net>
    X-MIMEOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.3018.1300
    X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.3018.1300
    Content-type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
    Content-transfer-encoding: 7BIT
    X-Priority: 3
    X-MSMail-priority: Normal
    References: <NEBBKOADILIOKGDJLPMAEEFACPAA.debivort@umd5.umd.edu>
    Sender: fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk
    Precedence: bulk
    Reply-To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

    I'm delighted to see all the discussion about languages. I joined this
    list to talk about memetics, but I studied linguistics at SFU, and spend a
    lot of time thinking about the past and future of language.

    There is a very interesting argument which can be found in the early 19th
    century writings of Wilhelm von Humbolt that English, German, Malay, and
    other natural languages are not really languages at all, but cultural
    content habitually and unconsciously inserted in an intermingled way in all
    speech and writing amongst English, German, or Malay speakers.

    From a memetics point of view this content is a vast collection memes which
    we are all unconsciously passing around to one another, but in Humboldt's
    theory the language we are using to do so is not English, nor German, nor
    Malay, but an underlying universal language. We could, in principle, speak
    and write in this universal language, without the accumulated cultural
    baggage, if we could factor out the memetic content.

    I called this mail message "future language" because I don't think it is
    entirely unreasonable to imagine that in the future we will be able to
    communicate directly in that underlying universal language, with no added
    memetic baggage, or at least without any we don't want to carry with us.

    What would that be like? Well, for one thing, the semantics would be
    transparent -- similar looking words would always have similar meanings. A
    file of words in dictionary (alphabetical) order would be exactly the same
    as a file containing the same words in thesaurus order (ordered by
    similarity of meaning, like the original kind of Roget's thesaurus, or like
    a library's Dewey Decimal System order).

    Can you imagine that? It is not easy to think about, I admit. What I
    have been working on for several years now are approximations to this,
    quasi-universal-languages that have most, but not all, of the memetic
    contents removed. Yes, yes, I know inventing artificial languages has no
    intellectual respectability and is a sure sign of a crackpot.

    The true universal language, (and what phrase could be nuttier than that?),
    if it exists, is not something to be invented but something to be
    discovered. I haven't made that most wonderful of scientific discoveries,
    but I think I know how to get there, since various invented approximations
    to it provide some clues. Here is the URL for a description of one of
    these being-invented approximations, on a very old web page of mine.
    http://www.socialtechnology.org/dpwilson/tgw.html -- I have come along way
    since then, but the newer stuff isn't on the web yet.

    Comments, anyone?


    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Apr 30 2002 - 11:43:50 BST