Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dussault and His Assault On the (uncertain) Future of Language

I have no idea who he is, but his posting landed in my inbox, so I read it. I read around 20 a day about language and translation, of which 50% gets dumped, 25% kept to muse over, and 25% blogged about. He alleges to be a philosopher from Montreal - a rather linguistically confused city. In his writing, I could detect a hint of frustration that although he was bilingual, his English was better than his French. I don't know what his French is like, but his English is full of typos and strange syntax.

I think it is this inherent confusion and frustration that made him come up with an idea to "improve language" in general. Here he states how this could be done:

  • Vocabulary: Being able to describe a greater variety of nuances (differences) between similar things (helped with a language that is structured in a way that is more in-line with how our memory functions; a different organization would allow us to retain more words with as much effort)..
  • Efficiency: Being able to describe the same things in less time (tone language achieve this to some degree; it is possible to make more uses of small words, or remove, like in Hebrew, vowels frm wrttn lngg; we can also rely more on homophones that can be interpreted based on context).
  • Aesthetics: Being able to stylize, or personalize, our choice of words, the order we put them in, the way we pronounce them etc so as to distinguish ourselves from others, to add a certain voice or emotion to something such as “This is a beautiful bicycle”, to inspire emotions in others based on our use of words (fear, laughter etc).
  • Clarity: Being free of those moments of confusion, such as when we use homophones (the meaning should always be recognized), new words (a logical etymology which allows us to construct new words while still being understood) etc etc.
  • Simplicity: Being able to learn and master the language with ease both as a child (being raised with the language) and an adult (being introduced to this new language). This includes similarity between written and oral language, a short alphabet etc

Do you feel confused? I don't blame you. For a language to be aesthetically pleasing, it needs to be rich - so out goes simplicity. Efficiency is often ugly, too. As for clarity, it depends as much on the speaker's mental and emotional state, as it does on language itself. And then he puts "the ability to describe a greater variety of nuances (differences) between similar things" while again wanting to maintain simplicity.

For me language is a multi-layered tool not just for communication, but also for play. I am sophisticated, and I like complex games. I also like them sometimes absurd, nonsensical, symbolic, contrarian, etc. And the number of letters in an alphabet, although annoying to me, has never stopped the Chinese from producing literary gems and a deeply interesting philosophy, nor from making them one of the worlds super-powers in science and commerce.

But so as not to disappoint Mr. Philosopher, I would risk asking: "Is DUH short enough, simple, clear and efficient for you?"

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