In Language We Trust

There is one point about that the Wisdom of the Language that seems confusing: It is apparently not clear to some which language is being referred to. I have left this open and ambiguous by choice, because it is not really a straightforward matter. Let me explain.

I am not talking about English or German, Arabic or Chinese. The main issue I see is written vs. spoken language. I find it amazing that few people make this distinction, but it is a very important one. The difficulty, though, is how to truly nail it down. For example: When I speak into a telephone, the audio signal is transformed into an electrical signal. In many (if not most) cases, that electrical signal is then transformed into either a light signal or a radio signal. The light or radio signal is the one that usually travels most of the distance (as these travel the fastest), then the signals are trasformed back (first into an electrical signal and then into another audio signal). In other words: there are several cases of writing and rewriting of data involved — so this is actually a written (and often translated) message, even though it appears to us to be simply spoken.

When I say “In Language We Trust”, I mean written language… even though writing is difficult to define. Is my genetic information a case of written language or not? Is the Magna Charta that gets printed in textbooks and encyclopedias across the globe the exact same text as the one written almost 800 years ago in England? Are the pictures etched into the Code of Hammurabi also writing? Why (or why not)?

Of course I am playing Devil’s Advocate here. When I get a call on the telephone about some stupendous offer for me to save money, get rich quick or buy insurance to cover the risk that my cat might die in a car accident, I may ask them to send something in writing (though more likely I will simply hang up). I do not trust insurance salesman, and I do not trust statements uttered in spoken language as much as I trust information in writing.

Written language seems to have a permanence that makes it more reliable. This is true in spades for a particular type of written content online: Domain names. We are all invested in domain names, much in the same way as we all have a stake in the English Language (or if some other language is your native language, then that language). When we say “house”, “tomorrow” or “water” in our native language to another person who speaks the same language as their native language, there is generally a trust that we are roughly speaking using the same names to mean the same things. Likewise, if I ask you to visit house.com, tomorrow.net or water.org, then there is little doubt that we are referring to the same thing (note, however, that the most of the information presented at tomorrow.net may very well be ads brought to you by Google, and that Google will probably deliver content that it feels will probably maximize profit for Google, Inc. — nonethless: this is what the administrator of tomorrow.net has decided, and the fact that the registrant of tomorrow.net is a company named “Oversee” and located in Los Angeles, California is public information, as is the company’s telephone number, street addess, etc.; there is no doubt that this company is ultimately responsible for any information presented at the URL “tomorrow.net” … and there is proof of this fact in writing). We often rely on the public nature of registries: the bank notes we use are numbered in this manner, the land upon which houses and other buildings are built are recorded in land registries, and so on. Registries are to ownership of private property much the same as dictionaries are to language — as a society we “buy into” both of these systems, in order to facilitate order and ease of use (in the case of property, to simplify commerce; and in the case of language, to simplify communication).

This is probably far more detailed and complicated that what you were bargaining for when you decided to read this post. The plain and simple version might simply read: “In Language We Trust” refers to written language, not hot air! :D

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