BBC Radio 4: Digital Human (Series 6:2014: Episode 2: Language) #DigiHuman

BBC Radio 4: Digital Human (Series 6:2014: Episode 2: Language) #DigiHuman


2/6: Language

We communicate with each other in more ways than ever and with an ever expanding range of devices and platforms. But they all piggy back on an earlier invention, our original social networking technology – language.

In this edition of the Digital Human Aleks Krotoski explores the idea of language as a technology itself and how people over the years have attempted to improve it; re-engineer it for maximum efficiency, or use it as a lever of social change.

She speaks to Professor David Crystal about how we’re living through a period of rapid language growth comparable to the renaissance or industrial revolution. Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel explains how we can consider language as a technology devised by natural selection while linguist Arika Okrent charts the attempts down the years by those who think they can perfect the function of language by devising their own.

  • We think of technologies that act on our world, or see language as a technology built on social selection/evolution.
  • Language allows us to find out what is going on inside others minds, but it’s more than a tool – it’s something we join – it’s society.
  • We’ve heard that tech is destroying our mother tongues, text shortening, beauty lost…
  • The importance of language – it doesn’t change at a steady rate. There’s not particularly more words coming into the language, but the technology is allowing them to be shared quicker.
  • We use our language to suit the wiring in someone else’s brains (as if by a remote control) – language is used to manipulate the world to suit our needs.
  • There are those who are not happy with current languages and so are creating new languages – see Each have their own grammar, etc. Exotic sounding appeal, but also engineering solutions to communication issues?
  • Understanding why people do what they do – language is one of the ways that explain, but also influences what people did.
  • The web is the space in which people can find these new languages, keep it alive, and share it.
  • If you treat a language like a spade, then it will only ever be good for digging. Children take spades and find new ways to use it … Constructed languages (and natural languages) do this.
  • Every piece of material printed material has been passed through a copy-editor, etc… but blogs, etc. offer a ‘rawer’ version, where the restrictions are social rather than procedural.
  • Language is a way of seeing the world…

There’s been a lot about language going on this semester – just completed the Corpus Mooc.


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