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Weblog:   Technology and Language
Subject:   Metaphors and Categorization
Date:   2003-08-07 22:25:52
From:   dm1
Response to: Metaphors and Categorization

Interesting point, and I don't see too much influence of technology in this respect. My initial hypothesis is that technology has a temporary effect on fashions in vocabulary. If you look at Lakoff and Johnson's "Metaphors We Live By", you'll find that almost everything they bring out has been in human language for millenia. Finally, this is fairly normal: each human language has two opposite tendencies. Each is constantly changing in reaction to changes in the external environment, and each has a conservative tendency at the level of structure to allow its users to continue to communicate. Compare IT: assembler code hasn't changed over the technological change of the last 15 years; and in telecoms, where change has been superficially most radical, developers are still programming in C.


Don't forget either that there might be a Whorfian effect of language structures having an effect on perception and as a result, preventing people from finding new solutions.

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  • Mitch Tulloch photo Metaphors and Categorization
    2003-08-08 10:01:18  Mitch Tulloch | O'Reilly Author [View]

    True, but fashions are a signficant part of vocabulary. Have you read any Raymond Chandler? His novels seem like 80% cliche, 20% normal speech, and they were hugely popular in their era.

    Anyway, I still wonder if anyone has begun a long-term study to track syntax/vocabulary shift in response to recent technological change, particularly with regard to comunication tools like email and text messaging. In everyday communication of all forms are sentences becoming shorter and simpler in construction? Are certain grammatical elements disappearing? Is word frequency changing? How is this measured and analyzed?

    And at a historical level, can you correlate certain techologies with similar shifts? Sentences were generally much longer and more complex in the 19th century, did the telephone or some other technology change this? How would you guage the historical impact of such inventions on language from a research point of view? How would you "isolate the variables"?

    And looking towards the future, what could be the possible *value* of predicting language change in response to current and envisioned technological advance? Could it help us better design future communications technologies to make them friendlier? Is it advantageous to design technologies to minimize semantic shift or maximize it? And finally, what's the answer to that last question from the point of view of different business sectors including the industries that generate change and careers like therapists that manage it? :)
    • Metaphors and Categorization
      2003-08-14 07:34:17  anonymous2 [View]

      > Is word frequency changing? How is this measured and analyzed?

      One simple (and perhaps naive) method would be to go to google, and do word searches, and record the hit counts. This is, in fact, an interesting way to check spelling: which form is more widely represented in the world of the web ? Take the more widely represented form as the "correct" form.

      > Sentences were generally much longer and more complex in the 19th century, did the telephone or some other technology change this?

      Yet another hypothesis, just invented by myself, might be that familiarity with Latin language literature caused a tendency towards longer and more complex sentences, and the decreasing familiarity with same caused a decreasing average length and complexity.
  • Metaphors and Categorization
    2003-08-08 13:54:14  anonymous2 [View]

    (from the first anonymous poster)

    A friend of mine corresponded with Lakoff for years during college and spoke to me often about their conversations. One of his favorite points of all of the conversations is the conclusion that most language (even most thought) ultimately boils down to what experiences come from our own senses (how often is comprehension metaphorically linked to sight, for instance? My friend could rattle off dozens of examples of this which most folks never really think about.) Higher level metaphors spread out from that narrow, personal experience (from the realm of our own senses to the physical reality of the world around us, to direct experience and interaction with other people, and on outward). Once you reach a very high level of abstraction, my friend argued, metaphors might get lifted from the environment and applied to describe more internal ideas (for technology examples, how about 'That didn't register', or 'it just didn't compute', or even 'That doesn't count') but, rarely would you use a reference to something externally experienced and complex (like technology) to explain anything internal and directly experienced. Spotting fundamental metaphors is really hard work, and, as I said before, the whole field is great stuff to think about. You want a technology metaphor so far removed from its source that most folks don't even realize they're talking machinery? How about 'It's a doozy'.
  • Metaphors and Categorization
    2003-08-14 07:27:35  anonymous2 [View]

    > Compare IT: assembler code hasn't changed over the technological change of the last 15 years;


    Intel assembly has surely changed over the last 15 years, although I will grant you that nothing as revolutionary as the virtual-86 mode that came out with the i386 some 17 years ago.

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