A Universal Language?

It seems that there is always talk of a universal language: a way to communicate with everyone, no matter where a person may be in the world. The simple answer as to why it has not occurred has to do with language’s relationship to culture. The extended answer being that Earth will most likely never have a universal language because of technical, scientific, as well as cultural factors.

In Thomas Devlin’s article, What is Esperanto, and Who speaks it?, he states that there are more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. With all of these languages existing around us, a Polish medical doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, created the language known as Esperanto, which was meant to “bring the world together as one (Devlin, 2).”

Esperanto was created on the roots of Latin in order to make it easier for those who speak languages that were born from Latin (Russian,Polish, English, German). Zamerhof’s idea was to receive feedback from others to evolve the language, and not place restrictions within it like other languages tend to do. While Esperanto seemed to have some advantages, those whose first language did not have strong European influences, such as Asian languages, were at a complete disadvantage.

Conspiracy Theory Keanu Reeves Meme On Animals Speaking a Universal Language  Language is identity. According to Jason Koebler in his article, Why a Universal Language Will Never Be a Thing, “for many groups of people, having a specific language is to say, ‘I exist’ (Koebler, 3).” Languages are important to culture and the way that those who practice said culture identify themselves. There even some languages, like Basque and Kurdish, that protect and preserve their language through enacting laws.

Languages will continue to evolve. As time passes and new generations come along, language will continue to change. Change can come from differences in pronunciation, new words being invented or borrowed, morphology’s disappearing or the meaning of old words become something different. As we continue to evolve and grow, so do our languages.

There are people who believe that universal language is portrayed not through spoken language, but on other mediums. Some believe music is a universal language; others believe love holds that spot; poetry is also considered to be a universal language. So what would categorize a universal language when comparing these three examples? They are all factors that move people, no matter one’s language or culture. Music, love and poetry may be the universal language. However, spoken language will never become one idea; that’s the beauty of it.The Arts are the Universal Language - Meme on Imgur

Ted Chiang and Fictional Examples of Concepts Considered in English 4574

So far in English 4574, my classmates and I have read about all sorts of science-fiction-sounding concepts. Wood’s ideas about the incorporation of artificially intelligent virtual assistants into our daily lives (think Siri, Alexa). The idea that picto-, ideo-, and logograms are all unique ways humans communicate, as discussed by Schmandt-Besserat. Young people’s increasing reliance on “smart” or assistive technology like word processors as showcased by Grabhill et all.

If you’re anything like me, then you might feel that although these concepts are intriguing to consider, they’re sometimes difficult to imagine happening. Either that, or their consequences have yet to fully play out in our world. We as a society are still in the throes of dozens of issues like the ones above. Issues of privacy, memory, self-expression, and communication all tied up in the realms of English composition, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and probably more to come. We’re living through history. The issues discussed by the academics we read are ours to tackle.

But, again, if you’re anything like me, you don’t exactly know where to start. Or, you think the issues themselves are interesting–entertaining, even–and want to read more about them. Allow me to introduce you to the works of Ted Chiang.

Ted Chiang is an American author famous for his thought-provoking science fiction short stories and novellas. Amazon.com: Arrival 11x17 Inch Movie POSTER: Posters & PrintsYou might be familiar with the movie version one of his more famous works: Arrival. The movie is based on Chiang’s short story titled “The Story of Your Life.” The plot centers around a linguistics professor named Louise Banks who is tasked with deciphering the complex language of aliens who have just arrived in Earth’s orbit. The story delves into ideas about cultural anthropology, the three “-grams”, and the paradigms of memory.

But wait! There’s more! Chiang has written two collections worth of short stories over the course of his career, and language/communication seems to be a favorite topic of his. His story “Seventy-Two Letters” dives into archaic ideas of names having intrinsic power. “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is a twist on our usual artificial intelligence story: instead of Siri or Alexa, scientists create semi-sentient digital “pets” called Digients. The story examines how humans interact with and treat these Digients, and what that says about us.

My favorite of Chiang’s language-related stories is probably “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Fiction”. This story harkens back to Plato’s ideas about memory and writing, but brings these concepts into a fictionalized version of our not-so-distant future. Characters in the story use a technology called Remem as a sort of constant life log. Every moment of their lives is recorded and sorted into categories, essentially externalizing human memory; exactly what Plato feared.

TLDR: Chiang’s stories provide excellent examples of the sorts of concepts we’ve been considering in class. Chiang’s prose is characteristically moving and lyrical while simultaneously drawing upon real scientific theories. If you haven’t read any of his work before, I highly recommend you do.