Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.
Mon, Oct 19 2009 12:01
Valuing language and nuance.
I bit my lip at the time. Out of fear or politeness, I am now not sure why I hesitated to accept this as "a good thing," even if perhaps true. The "English" that I was typing into my computer, except in word processing applications, was a far cry from the "English" I loved.
"Computing English" wasn't the rich language of nuance, feeling, expressiveness, or beauty. The English lingo of "input" or coding, and even the support for the results of same, might become universal, but it would never be the "English language."
Unlike the demise of some older computing languages (which many programmers celebrated), the recent BBC story of the demise of some spoken languages, caused a pang in my heart.
"By the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist."
As we lose languages, I think of what those that I learned have meant to me: Learning a foreign language was the start of an adventure into another culture, another way of thinking. Being surrounding by the juxtaposition of sounds never heard, in patterns never heard, led to the understanding of viewpoints and perspectives of other people. As with the prayer of St. Francis, it was, for me, less about being understood myself, than about understanding others. (Although improved understanding in both directions is the epitome of good communication.)
Recalling the Tower of Babel story -- the creation of tongues -- depicted as a disaster for humanity, I am wondering now if it really was such a catastrophe. It seems no one was communicating properly when they had a common language. Perhaps "the reason" for different languages was to demonstrate more clearly the existence of underlying differences that were previously being masked by the common language.
The New York Times provides some insights into these underlying differences in an article on literature prizes. After a book is translated into another tongue, its acceptance depends on common themes that appeal to all humanity, and, more importantly on clearly unique themes for differing cultures.
Border checkpoints used to be a mental, as well as geographic, point of embarkation for the traveler. Upcoming experiences may be different from those to which one is accustomed. As physical border checkpoints disappear, and as one global language emerges, we cannot assume that differences will also disappear. "Globalization" and the use of "one common language" may only obscure the appearance of differences. Differences will continue to exist. And we may find ourselves, again, at the base of a Tower of Babel, fighting in a common language.
Differing languages may well be the last remnant of a "border crossing." Do they help us acknowledge cultural differences? Does the very fact that we are confronted with the fact that a difference exists -- that we cannot assume that we will be understood with the words we use -- make us more careful?
The assumption of a common tongue giving us the ability to have immediate understanding is a premise fraught with peril. Our clients, even in their own common language, be it English, French, Italian, German or Japanese, take the time to carefully discuss wording so that there is clear understanding of the nuances of their entries into our software. This part of the process takes the better part of their time, but this point in the process is clearly pivotal in preventing "garbage in, garbage out."