I read an interview this morning from the most recent edition of Wired and I came across some really good insights into the nature of technology. If we can consider language a technology (I think we can) then the interview holds relevant implications for our discussion on invented languages and why they don’t seem to work.
They suggest that ideas, technology and also life innovate more like ecologies or networks than by some grand master design. They are faces of the same larger system that prefers small rates of mutation. The “throw it all away and use my perfectly rational language” philosophy that Wilkins and Dalgarno subscribed to couldn’t possibly work. There is a space of possibility surrounding any current configuration and change happens when you take that configuration and arrange it in a new way and that the best inventions are usually the ones that take the smallest possible step to unleash the most change. If we consider language as an ecology, we also have to recognize our ideas and the bits of language as ever-evolving ecologies as well, which might explain why we recognize Wilkins’ one-word-for-one-rational-idea taxonomy to be so ridiculous.
Also, they bring up the point (as Shirky does often) that both technology and life want increasing diversity and with that diversity comes an increase in great things and an increase in crap. If we step one step back from one language as a system of words and vocabulary and look at verbal communication as a diverse system, maybe we can scientifically put Klingon in its place as the lolcats of the space.
There’s some more really interesting ideas in the interview and although I’ve read neither I’m going to assume that both books have more to offer on the subject. Read the full interview here, but beware of obnoxious popups about a certain “greatest movie about professional nerds, EVER.”