Re: future language

From: Douglas P. Wilson (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 15:02:22 BST

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    From: "Douglas P. Wilson" <>
    Subject: Re: future language
    Cc: Robert Neville <>
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    Wade T.Smith <> wrote:

    > As the missionary says in 'At Play in the Fields of the Lord'
    > "In a hundred years or so, we'll all be brown."

    The dingoes of Australia all look the same, though they probably arise from
    feral dogs of not one but several distinctive breeds, but they are not a
    good example since they came from quite a small population of individual
    dogs, and became quite inbred.

    Where there are large populations the missionary's insight is mistaken --
    there are more true bottleless blondes and coal-coloured Africans alive to
    day than ever in the past. Key biological principle: there are powerful
    mechanisms for creating and sustaining biological diversity because such
    diversity is essential to mere survival, let alone evolution.

    Does this apply in memetics as well? I am sure it does. The Christian
    religion, for example is founded on a book that includes strict warnings
    against sectarian dissent, but oh what a wild diversity of churches read
    that book today, each discovering their own truths therein.

    > ... we'll co-manage language to the pidgin of a commonly shared tongue.

    I believe you mean a creole, not a pidgin, but I didn't mean either one.
    What I was trying to describe was not the blurring of distinctions but
    something almost the opposite, a language capable of extreme clarity
    precisely because it lacks all the historical accidents embedded in a
    language like English. Perhaps I should have emphasized more strongly the
    role of library classification schemes and thesauri as an inspiration and
    source of data for what I have been trying to do.

    > The experiment of esperanto has failed ...

    As a "language" (or putative language) Esperanto was a pidgin because it
    drew words from various source languages in an arbitrary way -- and that is
    why it is entirely unlike the kind of universal or ideal language that
    interests me, the kind which has lots of nice mathematical properties.

    List the words of Esperanto in any alphabetical order and you will
    immediately see that similar looking words often have strikingly different
    meanings. This was done on purpose, for the sake of cultural neutrality,
    but I think it an unfortunate design-decision.

    > ... - a pocket of speakers exist, ...

    I am told that there is actually a small number of NATIVE speakers of
    Esperanto. It would be more correct to say that these people speak the
    corresponding creole language, which would come into being when some people
    learned Esperanto in infancy, as their first language, and then used it to
    communicate among themselves while growing up. I hope someone is studying
    this -- I'd love to know what parts of Esperanto have undergone changes
    during creolization.

    > but, as you say, it is not designed by the patterns and motives of

    On re-reading my own message I note that my attempt to describe or to define
    this wasn't very good -- not as clear as I had hoped. "Designed by" is an
    interesting restatement, but I don't think it is quite right either. What
    distinguishes German from Malay is, on this theory, is not so much design as
    content -- it is the different memetic contents of the languages that makes
    them different languages.

    > But it is not only pride that stands in the way.

    This statement reads like it was written by a person who sees the current
    assortment of natural languages as rather a bad thing, someone who may have
    hoped we as a species would adopt a single language, thereby rendering
    translators obsolete.

    I have been such a person all my life, but I am beginning to suspect there
    is something wrong with that point of view. On the memetic-content theory,
    each natural language may contain (or consist of) a large amount of memetic
    content, something that is, or should be, or will be valuable. Had we all
    adopted a single language a few generations ago, European Union meetings
    would be less horrific, but the content encoded or embedded in the other
    languages would have been lost.

    We may someday learn to extract the content from languages, preserving and
    perhaps making use of it, at which time we may discover that we have in
    fact been speaking a single universal language all along and just didn't
    notice because of all the memetic baggage in the way. (I know that sounds
    preposterous, but I think the basic idea is only mildly insane and may
    contain some small kernel of truth).


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