British Council Netherlands teamed up with the Club of Amsterdam, an independent, international and future-oriented think tank, and OBA, Public Library in Amsterdam to organize an event on languages and their future: the Future of Languages – more than just words. The conference will take place on Thursday, 29th March 2012 in OBA, Amsterdam. Join us! The speakers and topics are:
Mirjam Broersma, PhD, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Why linguistic diversity will never disappear
Simon King, Professor of Speech Processing & Director of the Centre for Speech Technology Research, University of Edinburgh, UK
Making computers speak like individual people
Tsead Bruinja, Poet
Failing in Between – Writing Poetry in two languages
More information on the Club of Amsterdam website. On this occasion Aleksandra Parcinska wrote a short article on the related topic for the Club of Amsterdam Journal – Towards a Global Theatre of Languages which you may also read below.
Towards a Global Theatre of Languages
“Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey”. – Roman Jakobson, a Russian linguist and literary theorist.
Languages as an Ecosystem
Languages can be seen in some sense alive. They emerge, they evolve and reproduce, and some ultimately die. The meaning accommodates the constant change and interaction with the environment. The vitality of languages depends on the communicative behaviours of their speakers, who in turn respond adaptively to changes in their socio-economic ecologies. Emergence of English as a global language, the high number of dying or endangered languages and (Internet) technology are perceived as the main drivers of the current changes in the landscape of languages, more often than not seen as a threat to their diversity.
Past Times are Pastimes – what about the Future?
In 2012 it is exactly 40 years since the publication of The Gutenberg Galaxy of Marshall McLuhan who coined the term of “Global Village” and also prophesied the web technology. While McLuhan understood the Global Village as “heightened human awareness of responsibility” due to the instantaneous movement of information on the globe, he never referred to the idea that electronic media would create unified communities. On the contrary, McLuhan expected even more discontinuity and diversity as a result of the process. The current state of play seems to indicate a different direction. However, looking at the latest technology and languages, it may well be evolving only now.
Talking Dictionaries – Digitalisation of Endangered Languages
Nuances and possibilities of expression are lost without variation. Intellectual diversity and multiple ways of thinking suggested by different languages makes us, as a species, smarter and more able to solve common problems. The speed with which languages are disappearing nowadays is on an unprecedented scale. Digital technology allows for capturing and preserving the endangered languages. “The talking dictionaries” initiative from National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices project is an attempt to prevent these ancient languages being forgotten. In some cases, it is the first time a language has been recorded or written down anywhere.
Improving currently at high-speed, automated translation technology makes texts available in any major human language as well as allowing for a real-time translation. Real-time voice recognition is combined with automatic translation and speech generation to produce a crude but effective “universal translator” that allows a monolingual human to converse (at least slowly and simply) with any speaker of any major human language. With the development of recording and capturing languages currently underrepresented in the digital from, it will expand to any desired language. In the current research, there are also trials to capture emotions and personalize the outcome so that the generated sounds resemble the voice of the speaker.
Second Orality – Towards Fusion of Written and Oral
Gutenberg “Parenthesis” is a period marked by the reign of the printing mode, a concept formulated by Prof. L. O. Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark. Isolated from the largely oral culture that came before, this period seems to be coming to an end together with the digitally shaped culture emerging today. We may talk about the “liberation” of words from the nonnegotiable confines of the print and stories circumscribed by beginning, middle and end. We are going towards the freedom of the meaning of the words and story telling as in other oral traditions from the past, which allowed for dynamically changing texts and performances. We may not be reverting to a preliterate society so much as evolving into a “secondary orality”, supported massively by super literacy in the digital form based on a return of the fluidity in communication.
Towards a Global Theatre of Languages
After the publication of Understanding Media, McLuhan started to use the term Global Theater to stress the shift from consumer to producer, from acquisition to involvement. This may well apply to languages, with more people having access to digital tools and new technology. We will be able not only to preserve languages, to learn (about) and communicate in other languages, but also make new voices heard and have more flexibility and freedom of self-expression in our fast and more complex lives.