Date: 10 Jan 97 09:02:50 EST
From: Rafael Lozano Hemmer

Re: Language? No Problem.

I have been very interested by the current nettime thread on net-languages. I particularly enjoy the idea that in the near future if you are an English speaker the odds are that you are *not* a white anglo-saxon.

I agree with McKenzie Wark’s characterization of *speed* as a quality distinguishing net text from printed text. However, I think he is only referring to *reading* speed and, as a non-native English speaker, I think equally important is *writing* speed. For example, it is taking me three times as long to write this silly reply in English and perhaps, by the time I finish, you guys will already be discussing some other interesting subject. This is what I call "language lag" and it is reminiscent of a conversation over a bad transatlantic telephone connection or through a simultaneous interpreter. Of course language lag gaps can be a source of creative energy, but most often the lag produces what Geert calls "frustrating, violent, bodily experience."


While the relationship between language, technology and power is well established, here is one more example: In 1492, the Spanish scholar Antonio de Nebrija wrote the first Grammar book for a modern european language. His "Gramatica" standardized the rules of the Castillian language 30 years before any other european romance language. In the preface to the book Nebrija specifies that a standardized grammar is important because "Language is a companion of Empire, that allows the conquerors to teach their language to the conquered". Historical gossip tells us that Isabel of Castilla, being "stronger" than her husband Fernando of Aragon, commissioned Nebrija to undertake the Grammar to ensure that the language disseminated in the new colonies was Castillian and not Aragones. With the help of new technology, the printing press, she succeeded.

Of course, in the process of dissemination, the master tongue was hybridized and re-created. But more than create new words, one of the characteristics of Latin American Spanish is the degree to which "albur" (double meaning) is used. A conversation between two mexicans may convey a straight forward, literal meaning and a completely metaphorical sub-text, typically sexual.

Wark’s description of the ways "other" englishes are pluralizing the master tongue reminds me how similarly the language of technology, with all its anglo neologisms, is changing Spanish. Equally interesting is how spanish "albur" might be starting to be operative within the language of technology. This is important in order to demystify the field and favour access. The name "World Wide Web" is great in english because it conveys a visual equivalent of what it is in a relatively humorous way. But there is nothing humorous about trying to pronounce World Wide Web in Spanish: in the absence of a native equivalent, the term is actually alienating and mysterious. This has to change.