Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Textbook - Section 1


Basically, the main thing I'm doing now is finishing up the textbook chapter. Since I don't seem to be posting to the blog, I thought I could post parts of the chapter. It's written for the Intro to Ling class and is intended to be "followable" by 18 and 19 year olds who in fact have no interest in language nor in attending class. In other words, I'm attempting to write it for a general population, which includes you guys too. The only real difference is that my chapter would be one of the very last chapters, so they've already read several chapters on various language issues. Due to this, you will periodically see in my text a JAKENOTE in all caps. JAKENOTES are where I ask the editor, Jake, if the students have really already encountered an idea in the text. I welcome any feedback about what's confusing, what's interesting, what's boring, and what's oddly worded.

Anyway, here you go:

Talking to Robots, Talking to Ourselves: Exploring Computers and Language

Usually, we think of technology as something that we as humans create. It’s an external tool we bring into existence to perform some task of our choosing. However, almost all break-through technologies also reveal a great deal about ourselves. Technologies become new ways to explore what it means to be human, even possibly changing what humans are as a result.
This idea has captured the imagination of storytellers ever since stories were told. The classic Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus is just one example of using a fantastic technological innovation to make a statement about being human. The brilliant inventor Daedalus builds a set of wings for himself and his son Icarus. When they take to the skies, Icarus flies too close to the sun, melting the wings, and sending himself to his death. Mary Shelley’s 19th century story of the creation of a monster by Dr. Frankenstein also makes the reader reflect on what humans will become if technology gives them the power to create life. However, never has the intersection of humanity and technology so fascinated us as it has since the invention of the computer. Computers after all are designed to solve the sorts of problems that only humans have been known to solve – advanced mathematics, novel data analysis, control of other tools, and more. Novels, television, music, painting, and films, have all contemplated what separates humans from computers. Can robots be alive? Could a computer ever be a person? Do we have the moral right to create a living computer? What exactly divides a human from a computer?

As has been discussed in previous chapters, it is commonly argued that nothing is so distinctively human as language JAKE NOTE: HAS ANYONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS?. It is this amazing ability to speak and be understood that separates us from animals more than anything else. If that is the case, it is certainly worthwhile to take a look at language on computers. We communicate using computers so routinely now that for many people under 40, it is hard to remember what it was like not to even be able to do so. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our language by studying Computer-Mediated Communication and this will be the first topic of this chapter. What we will discover, however is that computers are not transparent in this process. They change how we talk to each other. Indeed, the more we ask them to assist us in talking to each other, the more like us they have to become. We end up needing to talk to computers themselves. How this is possible will be our second main topic. Finally, we will look at how we can use computers to study our own language use. Multiple volumes could be written about every couple paragraphs of this chapter, so a list of Further Readings is provided at the end.

omg u talk so diff in txt msgn!!!!! :)

We communicate in many different ways using computers: email, text messaging, internet bulletin boards, blogs, and web pages, just to name a few. Text messaging in particular has exploded in popularity in the past few years and yet is still new enough to many that it’s either a mystery or, for some, something to be feared or resisted. In an article entitled “I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language”, John Humphrys doesn’t mince words:

It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago.

They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

While getting quite this excited is probably uncommon, it is quite common to make fun of texting, sorry txtn, in various ways. To assess whether there’s any merit to the claim that text messaging is destroying the world, we first, as linguists, need to understand just what’s different about it. So let’s take the title of this section and take a real look at it.

Example 1: omg u talk so diff in txt msgn!!!!! :)


Emily B said...

As a former 102 instructor, I APPLAUD the work y'all are doing in writing this text. Clap, clap, clap!

It's looking great so far. Small thing - do you want to make explicit that phones are computers too, since you're mainly framing the first section in terms of computer-mediated communication but then you're using SMS (phones) as an example? Or does SMS refer to things like instant messanger chat stuff too? Maybe I'm confusing myself needlessly.

Anyway, it looks GREAT and I'm looking forward to the next installment :)


pacatrue said...

Good point, Emily B. Text edited. Or... omg txt so ttlly edtd!!! ^_^

fairyhedgehog said...

Very interesting and I hope you'll be posting more of it.