Language: the ultimate self-regulating system

24.01.2019

Our language is constantly changing. Yet somehow, that transformation does not cause chaos, writes American journalist and author Lane Greene. Language is the ultimate self-regulating system. But with artificial intelligence, will we still communicate about language? We will discuss this on GDI Trend Day on 13 March 2019.

Sprache

Language is comprised of words, meaning, and grammatical rules–a constantly changing system. Today we speak differently and use different words than our parents did. The German word "Fräulein" is a good example. Fifty years ago, every unmarried woman was addressed this way; today, the word is considered insulting. Another example is the English "nice", which originally meant " foolish", but now conveys "friendly, beautiful". These semantic changes did not come suddenly: “Words change meaning gradually, as a small number of speakers use them in a new way, and they in turn cause others to do so. This is how words can change meaning so totally and utterly; mostly, they do so in steps too small to notice”, explains Lane Greene, journalist and author, in his essay "Who decides what words mean".

Greene says we are erroneously tempted to think complex systems need management, a “benign but firm hand.” But, just as market economies seemed to be better than planned economies, languages are too complex and used by too many people to function that way.

The American author notes individual decisions can merit correction, but in the long run, change is inevitable and generally positive. It can be hard to trust the collective intelligence of fellow humans, but language is self-regulating. It’s a genius system– “with no genius.“

Will we still need language in times of artificial intelligence? We will discuss this on the 15th European Trend Day on 13 March 2019 at "Beyond Words: New Interfaces for New Communication".