Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tech Week: Language

A while back the news was that they had developed a Skype Translator. Sort of like the universal translator that they had on Star Trek, I guess. The only problem is, I never bought that little bit of science fiction technology.

I think the people who came up with the universal translator, or the babel fish, or even the ability that the TARDIS has to help various languages understand each other… they didn’t really understand language. It can’t really work. For one thing there are all the telepathic beings. How did they translate? Or what about cross-cultural people in those futures. Did Spock even bother learning English or is his always speaking Vulcan? What about deaf lip-readers?

Ultimately, languages don’t represent a one-to-one equivalency. They represent various ways of viewing the world. They think differently. In that way, some languages have better ways of expressing certain perspectives. Some concepts or words are best expressed in particular languages while other languages may not even have a word for those ideas.

Now, I am reading studies that show that our perspective might even be tied to our language. Apparently people may not have even seen the sky as being blue until they had seen it in other places and come up with a name for it.

So, whether it works or not, I do not think that Skype Translator represents an advance. I could see a future where such things rob us of the ability to see things as richly as they are seen these days. I think people should learn another language or two.

All of this also causes me to think about the origins and ends of languages. Didn’t we all used to speak one language, and won’t we all ultimately speak one again in heaven? I for one think that the various languages we speak today represent developments of the fragmentation of a language we spoke before Babel. As to heaven, I think we will each show up only knowing what we know now. Over the course of eternity we will have ample time to learn each other’s tongues. That way, we will grow in perspective and understanding, seeing things in as many different perspectives as there are or have been.

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