Posts tagged language
Last night, “hashtag” was crowned Word of the Year for 2012. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, notes:
This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk. In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.
I think hashtag is an excellent choice, but think Zimmer is underselling the decision.
Hashtag exemplifies the awkward ways we attempt to speak so computers will understand.
Computers don’t understand us. They’re getting better, but this last mile is turning out to be a doozy. Siri garbles every third word and struggles with accents, Google trips on words, and Facebook and iPhoto facial recognition systems see faces where there aren’t any. People are messy and the real world isn’t clean. It’s hard for computers to understand us.
The hashtag is us giving them a hand, providing a clue to our intentions they can easily parse. Hashtags are us talking loud and slow in a foreign land. They’re awkward, which is precisely why they’re important to note.
Hashtags remind us that interfaces are hard. When Google makes a promise about Google Glass, remember the hashtag. When Ray Kurzweil brings up the singularity again, point him towards the hashtag.
The hashtag shows that human/machine interactions are a negotiation. They come two steps towards us, we come one step towards them.
The hashtag also illustrates the loneliness of the internet.
But the goal of the hashtag isn’t for the computer to understand us; this is a means towards an end. The true goal of the hashtag is to connect with others, to be discovered, and to be part of a community – all online. The hashtag is us asking the computer for help, for it to put in a good word for us when someone else is searching for pictures, words, or videos we’re posting.
The hashtag is awkward and that’s why it matters. It reminds us how imperfect computer interactions are right now.
Know the idiom, know the culture:
- Bulgaria: “Both the wolf is full, and the lamb is whole.”
- Denmark: “You cannot both blow and have flour in your mouth.”
- France: “To want the butter and the money from (selling) the butter.” (The idiom can be emphasized by adding, “and the smile of the female buttermaker”)
- Germany: “Please wash me, but don’t get me wet!”
- Switzerland: “You can’t have the five cent coin and a Swiss bread roll.”
- Greece: “You want the entire pie and the dog full.”
- Italy: “To have the barrel full and the wife drunk.”
- Russia: “It’s hard to have a seat on two chairs at once.”
- Spain: “Wishing to be both at Mass and in the procession.”
Ah, Italy… (Via Wikipedia)
New York Magazine reports on an interesting development in computer/human relations:
The Southern District of New York recently became the nation’s first federal court to explicitly approve the use of predictive coding, a computer-assisted document review that turns much of the legal grunt work currently done by underemployed attorneys over to the machines.
Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck endorsed a plan by the parties in Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe — a sex discrimination case filed against the global communications agency by five former employees — to use predictive coding to review more than 3 million electronic documents in order to determine whether they should be produced in discovery, the process through which parties exchange relevant information before trial.
Analysts expect decisions like this to open the door for an eruption of computer analyzed legal work.
A few questions:
- How long will it be before lawyers are explicitly trained to write in a way which will be favorably interpreted by software?
- After this happens, how long will it be before legal writing evolves into a scripting language, more code to be compiled than words to be understood by humans? When will the first O’Reilly book be published for this language?
- Will computer/human standards emerge for other fields or discourses? SEO copywriting is already on its way. What other fields might follow suit? Sports journalism?
“ Badgeville mobilizes gamification with mobile SDK”
“ First, Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked 1,482 students to read one of two reports about crime in the City of Addison. Later, they had to suggest solutions for the problem. In the first report, crime was described as a “wild beast preying on the city” and “lurking in neighbourhoods”. After reading these words, 75% of the students put forward solutions that involved enforcement or punishment, such as calling in the National Guard or building more jails. Only 25% suggested social reforms such as fixing the economy, improving education or providing better health care”
Not Exactly Rocket Science describes a Stanford experiment illustrating the power of metaphors and language.
The words you use matter.
James Fallows, covering Jeremy Lin’s reception in China, quotes a tweet:
On Feb. 12, Mao Maozi, a cameraman with the state-run Shanghai Education Television network, tweeted an answer to that question on Sina Weibo: “If Jeremy Lin lived on the mainland, he would either be a semi-literate CBA [Chinese Basketball Association, China’s state-run professional league] player or an ordinary undergraduate who likes basketball in his spare time. We admire him not because he is an ethnic Chinese, but because he has proved for a fact that the main reason that Chinese don’t play basketball well is because of the system, and not their physique!”
And, Yes, for the record, that’s all one tweet! The writing system of the Chinese language has its drawbacks, but one of the pluses is that with 140 characters you can say a whole lot more in Chinese.
I’m really enjoying the linguistic quirks and negotiations as exported technology encounters methods of communication which their interfaces never thought to consider. China is nearly always a participant, as it’s scale cannot be ignored. As more and more locally designed tech is exported and more and more Chinese citizens explore the bounds of the web, the friction and workarounds will be fascinating to watch. The Economist notes:
More than 300m Chinese internet users have at least one microblog account, and some use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around the infamous “great firewall” of China. The Chinese government is being dragged, click by click, out of its cone of silence.
(Fallows via Matt Yglesias)