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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.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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