English 2.0 — Language that works more like software

Last week, Kanye West tweeted that he had made several edits to his already released album. Fortune Magazine ran a headline titled:

Kanye West Is Patching His Music Like Software

This begs a question: why don’t more things in the world work like software. If we want to make something better, fix bugs, and improve workflows… we could press a button and everyone benefits from new software. With Life of Pablo, West is applying a property of software to music (an industry that previously could not function like software since records were made into CDs and not streamed).

Let’s move on to other domains like language. Currently, the Oxford English dictionary under the Oxford University Press is one of the main governing bodies over English language modification. If there needs to be a new word in the dictionary, it is reviewed and then added. Other words that are not in use also can be removed from the dictionary. In this case, I guess you could consider the Oxford English dictionary as a code repository where each subsequent modification is a new commit.

However, language should move faster. Language should be constantly improving and being made more efficient. With the dawn of the internet and mobile phones, people have created “textspeak” for colloquial conversations. Consider this article:

Textspeak Is Modernizing the Egnlish Language (*English)

In the future, we will need to express more complex ideas in a shorter amount of time. The current structure of verbal language is very slow because it is based on the vibration of your vocal chords. There is room in the future to communicate information faster that does not have to rely on verbal communication. For example, typing can be must faster than speaking, but we still talk verbally in our minds before typing words. A direct brain-computer interface would be the ultimate tool, if human minds could represent information in a way that is different than today’s structure. We already use shortened communication methods like textspeak colloquially, but a more advanced system would be necessary if we want to have a future where communication of complex information is faster.

Language is just the representation of ideas or concepts in written, sonic, or digital form. Alphabetic and character based languages are the main structures of most communication systems in the world. In the next hundred to one thousand years, we will need to start evolving our language to be more efficient. For example, computers can talk to each other much faster than humans because their system of communicating through bits is fast and efficient for them. A statement like:

“Today’s weather is warm.”

Can be represented on a computer as:

“01010100 01101111 01100100 01100001 01111001 00100111 01110011 00100000 01110111 01100101 01100001 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110010 01101101 00101110 00110001”

A computer may only take a few milliseconds to process this bit stream. A human takes several seconds to process this statement in English. Therefore, relative to computer-to-computer communication, human language is very slow and inefficient.

However, consider another system like the pinyin-Chinese on mobile phones where Chinese speakers can communicate very complex characters with only a few key strokes.

If I type “jin tian de tian qi nuan huo” into my phone, the pinyin keyboard will turn this sentence into Chinese characters: 今天的天气暖和。Even more simply, I can type the following characters with auto-completion on the pinyin keyboard.

jin : jin 8 : 今

tian: t 1 : 天

de :d 1 : 的

tian :t 1 : 天

qi :qi 5 : 气

nuan huo : nuan hu 2 : 暖和

今天的天气暖和 then just becomes jin 8, t 1, d 1, t 1, qi 5, nuan hu 2 which takes a 29 character string and converts a few letters into complex characters with autocompletion.

This same property happens on Google Search when you type in a string. Google starts thinking about what you want to ask based on the characters that you already inputted.

We already have other systems like predictive type on the iPhone which uses a Naive Bayes Classifier (or similar system) to predict how you want to respond to a message.

I think that the future of language, especially on mobile phones, is exciting to think about. We will start creating new ways to communicate and new ways to communicate complex ideas.

Whether that comes in stickers, emojis, or textspeak, dramatic modification to our language will be necessary if we want to have a future for language that is liberated from the constraints of our vocal chords. Whether these improvements happen by government, by teenagers, or by the Oxford English dictionary, they will be inevitable.

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