Language and its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology

“Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another.  Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously.  As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information.  Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.  We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”1

Marshall McLuhan

1967 from”The Media is the Massage”

 

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detail from “mapping art’s genome”

 

 

Speech units or phonemes are represented by sign and symbol which evolve through repetition and convention into a working tool of communication.  Signs become letters, and letters, alphabets; ideas become pictures which, [in symbolic representation and combination], become words.  Words, arbitrary in origin, [extended in translation through derivative root, added suffix and prefix] are then made conventional by use. Use, in response, becomes contingent upon convention.

 

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In origin, writing systems were generated by the need to tally and record food production.  Counting grain and creating seasonal calendars of planting and harvesting demanded a uniformity of mark-making in order to retain utility.  From the earliest tallying of crop production to the flow of dissemination of information to the masses in reaching our contemporary state of universal literacy, writing systems have continually evolved and produced for us both the necessary invention for ultimate mass communication, and, in their respective states of physical record and object preservation, provide for an extensive anthropological and cultural/literary study.

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Other than a spontaneous human utterance of fear or joy, what else can be noted in its origin, its original context that has not gone through some sort of historical transcription? 2

J. G. Herder

 

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detail from “a shifting of variables”

 

 

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Every academic discipline contains a language, a patterning of elements, be they composed of number, word, letter, shape, color, symbol, image, or any repeated system of mark-making.  The repetition, structuring and replication make possible the language; the physical (legible) mark-making acting as both the means (to a communication) and an end (that which is [eventually] communicated).  The written shapes and letters in their manufactured pattern create as they record (in real time) and, if remaining active in communicating, continue to offer meaning within an ongoing historical context.  If no longer used in the act of communicating, the language [in its (now) purely formal state] resides in residual pattern.

Whether composed of letters, words, mathematical symbol, numerical notation, etc., all written language systems rely upon a conventionalized patterning (structure) for their survival.  In order for the individual voice to be heard, it must conform to an existing convention.  Here lies one of the many paradoxes of language regarding its utility and unique reception.

“The more alive a language is, the less one has thought of reducing it to letters, the more spontaneous it rises to the full unsorted sounds of nature, the less, too, is it writeable…” J. G. Herder

 

If the overall goal of language is communication, the formal language with which the artist ‘speaks’ is contingent upon the language of the society it intends to speak both to and about.  The artist who breaks with the traditional language of its discipline in creating a new form of communication (i.e.: Courbet, Millet, Van Gogh) is initially rejected due to this change in form.  Eventually, within the context of history, the society catches up with the new form, [the artist is then identified as being one “ahead of his time”] and the discipline itself is altered, and cannot return to its “time before”.

Language too, moves in this linear fashion, and is as mutable as the society which uses it.  The paradox of language is shown here, with the unique voice of the artist “the less, too, is it writeable” having to submit to the conventional in order to be heard.  The proverbial misunderstood artist with his “illegible handwriting” is often misread (or, unread?), only to be deciphered much later by the privileged spectators of history.

 

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The way in which we communicate is no doubt being altered by 21st century digital technology with its pace, immediacy, and accessibility.  Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”.  This poses all sorts of changes made in how we write, read, gather and assess, streamline and interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.  The form is inseparable from the content, thus, our language can only reflect our existing medium.

 

If the medium for writing changes from handwritten correspondence to instant messaging, the language in turn, follows suit.  The limited time and space of the text message and the tweet makes no room for the contemplative lengthy passage, the periodic sentence.  The abbreviated word in the rising use of acronym is just one of the changes taking place in the field of digital communication.  The phonetic translation of these acronyms could certainly find their way (back?) to the logogram.  A three word expression taking the form of three letters in acronym could eventually turn into a furthered shorthand symbol.  The new shape is no longer phonetic, but logographic.  Our written language is changing.

 

The earlier theories of Johann Herder realign themselves with the current flow of our digital language.  Noting Herder’s claim that words are rooted in verb form seems to make perfect sense today, with our activity demanding a new word to be formed to not only identify it, but (actively) participate in its identity.  In order to understand the world around us, we naturally, by our given nature, give things names.  ‘To blog”, ‘to Google’ and ‘to tweet’ are infinitive forms of verbs which have successfully risen out of the necessarily mutable nature of language and its newest placement in the medium of electronic communication.   Conventional use mixes with historical change and gives to language its life.  Without both components operating, (and, both seemingly contradictory) [a] language would cease to exist as a language, and would become instead, an historical record of a once-used (but now antiquated) pattern.

 

In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf claimed that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.  If this is true, the culture of the tweet, text, and blog (the form) alongside the globalizing power of the Internet (the context of influence) will invariably alter our existing language, or, evolve into a completely new system of sign and symbol all of its own.

 

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Our earliest use of the computer gave to us the Word Processor, a tool further advancing our facility (of writing) while distancing ourselves from the uniqueness of a personal penmanship.  The term “word processing” itself gives us a reading of [a] manufactured item being distributed large-scale and to the masses [in the same manner as did Warhol’s images, with the ‘making of’ image through the mechanism of factory-built process, and then, engaging both marketing strategy (the selling of image) and the mass assembling (in the gallery exhibition) of its parts.  Image was the subject; mass production (and, mirrored manipulation), the content.

 

As for image, the computer software program Adobe Photoshop also gives us change in the way in which we take photographs.  We no longer take photographs, we “make photographs”.  Again, facility and ease of doing this run alongside the distancing of the personal; all images can be manufactured with this software tool, and, the tool, made available to anyone with a computer and the purchasing of the software.  The “Photo-Shopping” of image denies any such vestigial concept of “original” or “authentic”.

The shattering of aura (of an art object) with the advent of mechanical reproduction [unveiled for us by Walter Benjamin in 1935] (and made real by Warhol) can now be compared to the advent of the blog, twitter, and text in terms of its own altering of established academically ruled fields.  Journalism seems the most affected, along with that of publishing and the copyright.  As for language itself, its rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling along with the formal nature of [its] written translation is transforming as rapidly as is the technology we use to communicate.

On another level, the digital transcription and then storage of texts in electronic form [without the need of any actual physical written record, any tangible piece of paper, or reel of microfilm, [or, furthered – any clay tablet, carved vessel or hidden scroll] is the current stage set for the recording of a culture’s history.  Electronic blips of translated shapes of 1’s and 0’s house the “history” we now make.  The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of literature turns what used to be individual books and references into one large electronic ball of page-less citation.  If we are lucky, the works existing in their secured digital form will not be lost to technical whimsy, or, political nightmare.

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“might ( possible)”

 

After years of creating odes to writing’s formal cadence and aesthetic script, there is now the revolutionary text message, hypertext translation and abbreviated use of an existing alphabet.  I am trying to concentrate my own work in this direction, with the idea of writing and its grammatical form and physical translation of history losing itself in this same stream of advancing technology;  both out-running  society’s own comprehension of its quickly changing form.

 

2/2017

 

 

  1.  Marshall McLuhan/Quentin Fiore  “The Medium is the Massage”.  copyright 1967
  2. J. G. Herder – from “On the Origin of Language” – copyright 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Mail Order Catalog to Amazon Prime or, the loss of aura (all over again)

 

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When Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe off-register onto a painted canvas and painted cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, (placing both on the platform of High Art) — he did two things: he called attention to the distance between the mythical and the real, the iconic and the ordinary, and, at the same time, with the same motion, he closed that very same distance.

Not only does he erase the platform of High Art itself, — but, ends up making the platform even larger in significance in order to grasp the meaning of his ‘act of doing this”. The gesture’s the thing with Warhol; his art found in the placing upon in the ironic erasing of.

This whole closing of space between high and low, iconic and ordinary we note in Western-rooted Greek Antiquity’s anthropomorphism. This is then re-echoed in the Renaissance’s distance-closing humanism where the artist’s introduction of man-made formulae applied to theories of perspective disavow the mystery of spatial differences between the heavenly and the earthly and shatter the mythical distance once again. Warhol’s Marilyn, his Jackie O. his Elvis fall from their pedestal as he places them (off-registered silkscreened-smudged in mass reproduction as the ink itself, runs its mechanically-printed course) simultaneously upon it.

The point to note is that there is a line there for Warhol to blur; the distinction existed; the fall from the distant and the sacred, real. This is what accounts for the disillusionment we, [as a generation living through it] experienced. We experience the tragic when he does this.

Today, though, is quite different.

Today, we are not given the distance needed to note any such fall. We are as close to our Beyoncé’s and Lady Gagas as we can be, just in terms of sheer mediated enumeration. There is no mythological goddess in the distance for us to worship – for, the form in image that they take, and, the one they took from the start – one of enumeration and accessibility makes this no longer applicable. Lady Gaga was never mythic, sacred. She was never that far away from us.

 

The use of the tally mark eventually morphs into numerals to signify ‘all of those many marks’. A threshold reached; the realizing of an amount unmanageable results in a change in form. Degree influences kind.

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We are no longer a society of manageable quantities: _the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, Life Magazine and The National Geographic M., only three broadcasting networks on our television sets, the tangible vinyl records of the music of the ‘70’s taking up only one aisle in a Caldor Dept. store, and, a handful of books found on high-school- requirement reading lists, and, these lists fairly standard: manageable, finite. We all read Animal Farm in 8th grade; Lord of the Flies in 9th; The Great Gatsby in 10th; Our Town in 11th, and The Grapes of Wrath in 12th.

Today – there is no end to the amount of books, musicians, writers, bloggers, magazines, publications, artists, news cycles, references, television entities [and, options for viewing], videos, movies, images, data, tweets, texts, opinions, information, margins, status, standards, trends, and, more importantly, those which we have access to: our access to it making all the difference.

“Google estimated in 2010 that there were 300 exabytes (that’s 300 followed by 18 zeros) of human-created information in the world, and that more information was created every two days than had existed in the entire world from the dawn of time to 2003.” 1

We are not only living in more of what we used to have, but, by this very fact, are experiencing it in a new way. This translates to a change in the way we read things; our act of reading influenced by the enumeration of the readable (sheer amount available) and the form in which the ‘enumerated readable’ takes.

Digital form offers both a reduction in distinguishable style (“An electronic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark looks just like a Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban. They are treated in the same way. Calibri 11 pt. Arial Unicode MS 12 pt.) and, a far busier field of no longer static written language, but moving text and image. Our efforts to concentrate (engage in a gracious default reckoning of such change) becomes more and more like a Ray Bradbury metro-ride: “Consider the lilies of the field….”?: we try – but it is becoming more and more apparent to us that we cannot.

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For those of us who grew up in an age when the amount of media access was limited in comparison; limited in amount of options far more than we are now, we were more assured of a knowledge base we could manage, and, given the limited sources, far more willing to trust without the built-in skepticism needed for today’s source-sifting. We took our time, because we had the opportunity to, and, because we were dealing with a fairly manageable amount. Most of what we knew was determined by what was within our own tangible reach. Library aisles were walked; book pages, turned. Screens were limited to one small box in the corner of one room in our house. This was our limited-in-perspective access to (a) much larger world.

For this generation, there was far more mythical due to limited access, not unlike
Plato’s cave where shadows served us far longer than maybe? they should have. (The Christopher Columbus we learned about in elementary school back in the 60’s — not quite the Christopher C. we’ve come to know today).

For this generation, the purchase of an LP record closed a sacred distance that truly existed, brought us nearer to the music artist we cherished as much as the poorly printed photographs we clipped from magazines and posted on our (real) walls. These were larger-than-life images held up by scotch-tape — significant in a way not quite possible today.

Today, iPods hold our music — but not in tangible “cherishable” form, (a record album cover’s physical wear relative to its degree of “cherishedness”), but in an un-felt invisible digital code. Even the act of purchasing a record album has lost its recollected significance. It would be difficult to do this, I think, with an electronic purchase download onto a replaceable-when-it-breaks device –:  we probably won’t recall our favorite iPod, our favorite Kindle.

–The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of our cultural products (literature & art) turns what used to be individual hand-held objects into a field of digital code. 2

 

Where does all of this technological advancement lead us?

Our re-losing of our sense of aura “in the age of digital reproduction” is our newest change, creating a whole new context with which to view things. For those of us who experienced the 1st loss of aura with mechanical reproduction of image, living with our so-called “luxury of loss” – we will view things quite differently than those who never knew of a slowed-down time of limited choice and access.

The way we seem to be viewing our present is in an overlapping of distance and myth, closeness and real; the experienced disillusionment now viewed as our “something cherished”.

The Warhol mass-reproduced image can now be read as our Marilyn Monroe before she was silkscreened; that very gesture in demystifying as our latest version of “hand-held treasure” — as we hold onto not the myth which was lost, but rather, the memory of our personal experience of losing that myth. In a sense, we cherish our ability to have had at least the opportunity to experience it. This is not unlike Keats in his choice to reject both nightingale and urn for “being too happy in thy happiness” –like those of us experiencing now (with our Star Wars reunion of Fisher and Ford) a charged sentimental nostalgia desired over the possibility of never having the experiencing of one.

At least, with our worn-out record collections and recollected awe—– [when Lucas first gave to us ‘special effects’ (BCGI), that, at the time, were thought to be the size of galaxies ]- we have something to weigh against the present – and, one quite different in kind – and, not merely, degree.

 

blog movie pic

Our reliving of yet another loss of aura is worth the introspective reflecting, but that is as far as it will go.  Today’s digital is the new linear perspective.  Video Killed the Radio Star —– once again. The technology’s too good, too remarkable. We will gladly sacrifice the sacred for the access, the shadow for the indefinite pixels on our high-def screens.

As with our mythical bird’s song – a song that does not change, it “singest of summer in full-throated ease” – but, fortunately, [and, regardless of any lines blurred or distance lost], our listening does.

“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far………..” 3

 

1 In the Age of Information, Specializing to Survive By J. PEDER ZANE   MARCH 19, 2015    

2 L. Szpak – “Some Thoughts On Language and Its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology” 2010

3 THE BUGGLES lyrics: “Video Killed The Radio Star” Copyright © 2000-2016 AZLyrics.com

Image:  By L. Szpak -from Fine Art Handmade Edition Book – “A Theory of Human Nature” – 1988