Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


the magnitude required to make machine translation viable. The
issue is, accordingly, only of theoretical interest – for now.
Most of the technological developments in the above paragraphs
are, fortunately, not so apocalyptic in their implications; but every
one does raise a linguistic issue of some kind. Interactivity is one
of the key themes. The more integration there is, the more it will
need to be managed. We need to think about the design of inter-
active screens, and the development of a simple and unambiguous
command structure which will handle bothlinear and interactive
media. How linguistically smart will ‘smart software’ actually be?
The psychophysical limitations of the technology have to be an-
ticipated: just how much manageable information is it possible to
receive on a wristwatch television, or on the screen of a mobile
phone? Each technical context will present its own linguistic con-
straints and opportunities, whether it be ‘interactive digital televi-
any other development. For example, what language demands will
be made on us when we decide to be involved in the last of these –
real-time computer-generated scenarios, in which we would find
ourselves interacting with film-stars in predesigned cinematic set-
tings?^5 Or, in cases where speech synthesis is going to present our
persona to the rest of the world, whether in our own language or
in some other, what type of accent will we choose to use? A new
kind of anonymity will then be possible, as we display ourselves
in a phonetic guise of our own choosing (within the set allowed
by the software). Accent being such a sensitive issue, I can foresee
all the old issues of appropriateness and correctness, so beloved by
correspondents to the BBC, taking on a new computer-mediated
lease of life.
The following example illustrates how a new technology has
immediate linguistic consequences. During the 1990s, the mobile
phone industry developed itsshort message service(SMS), often
referred to astexting.This has seen a remarkable growth, with

(^5) The possibility was illustrated in the ‘a, b, and c’ episode ofThe PrisonerITC television
series of the 1960s, where the character played by Patrick McGoohan is electronically
introduced into a film dream scenario where he interacts with the characters.

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