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This article is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

Is There Life on Earth? Iain Bamforth

Some Observations on Technical Language

For an information technologist what you and I engage in on a daily, more or less unselfconscious basis is fuzzy discourse. What is fuzzy discourse? - try talking to someone with a microphone nearby or read something you've dictated in a hurry and you'll see in an instant what's fuzzy about it: lots of throat-clearing enunciations, phatic slab-words, trailing conjunctions, broken-backed metaphors. Language doesn't flow; it comes in stops and starts. Sometimes it looks like the angel wrestled by Jacob, and smashed to bits on the hard earth. This idea was once expressed supremely well by Karl Kraus, the one-man cabarettist and publisher who never tired of telling German-speakers how naked the emperor was: 'in no language is it so difficult to make oneself understood as in language'.

For information technologists aiming to corner the market in voice recognition systems and who've probably never heard of Karl Kraus, what happens in daily life must be a horrifying prospect.

Like us, information technologists more or less speak a language. Inside the doors of their specialization, they cultivate what is properly called an ideolect, and they're presumably realistic enough to know that a galactic interlanguage in which everyone can talk shop and be understood is about as pertinent a prospect as finding an Elsevier dictionary in the next world. What is language using us for if not to sow misunderstanding, the rogue creative principle of humanity? In the tongues of ...


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