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Monday, July 02, 2007

SUL (Part 1)

How many times have you encountered the language barrier? I have many times. Trying to explain the waiter in Bangalore that I want a glass of water, and he got me a glass of whiskey! This I suppose happens to all those non-polyglots. Isn’t there a way out of this? Why do we not have a universal language?

The Barrier

Try running the Google search with language set to all languages. You will find at least a few thousand Japanese, Korean and Chinese sites. Well you can always run the language filter. But see the amount of information blocked by the language bottleneck. And we still don’t have a good enough translator.

Let English Be

The most obvious question you might ask is why not make English the universal language? Some might even say that English is already the universal language. But I can assure you it is not. Of course half of the world population can understand it. But what about the other half? They might as well accept English provided America conquers the world. But lets finds a more peaceful i.e. a non-American (sorry ;)) solution.

La Universale

What is then the universal language? Let me put forward some points that the ideal language should have. But before that let me tell more about types of languages. Languages are mostly three types.

1st is Symbolic language. Like English, Spanish, and all European languages. Now don’t ask me why. (Try to pronounce Rough, Cough as bough or Dough.)

2nd is Phonetic language. Like Hindi, Sanskrit, etc. and I think all other popular Indian languages. This is superior to the one above for a very simple reason that, even any odd sound can be represented in it accurately, and the words are written and pronounced in the same way.

The 3rd is a very special one and I will come back to it later.

What then is the aim of any language? Simple question isn’t it? To effectively exchange feelings, and of course information. The later is easier than the earlier. Our language or rather the scripts are utter failures in exchanging expressions and feelings and emotions. Think of online chatting. You never know the mood of the other one unless he/she uses ‘smileys’. How crude!

Well not all languages could become universal languages. The best test for a universal language is, if it can be understood and represented WITHOUT prior training in it. Impossible many will say. I say not. I will give one small example. Go to any where in the world and gesture ‘food’ (hand moving to an open mouth). Every one will understand. And such a language should be 100% efficient in expression of feelings. The lack of a script can be adjusted for the time being. So any ideas?

I have one.

You will understand the third type of language very well if you have read the book ‘Eragon’ by Christopher Paolini. It is very close to universalization of communication. What I mean is communication by images (the way Eragon and Saphira communicated). But the most important thing is that the images should not be contaminated by exposure to the outer world. Get it? Telepathy, Brainwave communication, you can call it whatever you like. That will be universal I think. A Bengali, a Marathi, a Spaniard all can of course recognize a cow when they see an image of it, unless of course it is polluted by the ever present human schemata (prejudice in a layman’s language).

The topic is open for discussion, so please join in and hope the 2nd part comes soon. And before Time signs out let me ask one thing to everyone. (Alsotry to guess what SUL is.) Remember the attempt in 1980s to contact alien life forms in outer space by sending a magnetic disk, with images and sounds of earth (and simple human words in English)? O please don’t laugh. Let me put you in their shoes; tell me what could be the best thing we can send them? See how the lack of a universal language pinches?


RG said...

You have confused me.

You say we need a language that expresses emotions. Why? Do we always communicate over the net, and never face to face?

You say that we do not know what the other's mood is. Why? Over the phone, do we not recognize the tone of voice?

You say the use of imagery will be an effective way to express oneself. Does this mean we use video phones? Or is this telepathic? In which case we throw our phones and the internet away? Who needs a voice then? And what about books? Purely pictorial? Who can read that??

Please elaborate.

saurya_time_travel said...

ok rash ...here let me explain.
i dont exactly mean communication by images, the way the hieroglyphics were, nor do in mean that we sud throw away the net etc. what i mean is to form a language which has emotions, feelings integrated into it, thus making phones and internet even more effective !

we can of course see each others face and hear the voice to kno expressions, bt can u do the same for an autobiography? use of phrases like 'feeling angry', 'feeling lonely', and things as such r used in books. bt the fact is that, when a certain number of people read a paragraph, EACH of them interprets it differently. NONE get the author's real meaning.

Say u go to Zaire, and wanna talk to a Pigmy, hw can u? here we do need a universal language. Mere translation will not do. try reading 'geetanjali' in english, it becomes all rubbish.

and lastly about the picorial book thing u said. A book is not just pieces of paper, text, or pictures. It is RECORD - of events, facts, feelings, etc. It can be in any form. NOW Just imagine, stepping into mahatma Gandhi's THOUGHTS and experiencing the Dandi march, from his eyes !

congrats rash ! u hav successfully provoked me to write the second part ! lol.

RG said...

eh I'm not rasagy lol

Navneet said...

hmm...the points with coming up with a universal language would be more of political, economy driven and ease.

however if we were to come up with one...why not use charades? common and easy to be trained in...however regional differences will always remain.

how about charades and pictures? good combo.

SUL: special universal language by any chance?

saurya_time_travel said...

lol rg, sori if u mind that. .. are u satisfied wid my answer ?

@ navneet,
surely the prospect of a universal language is political, etc, bt what i mean here is to find a better language. or rather a better mode of communication.

using charades and pictures is great, bt still very trivial. it's no where near enough to be called a language.

a better idea is communication by delta waves. directly from brain to brain. and i am not dreaming, it's an active research area ...

Arun Chaganty said...

Ahhh, Saurya, you've done it again, you've read my mind! I've been thinking about this for a long time. I personally think hindi >>>>>> english,etc.

a) It has a slightly larger character set to meet the phonetic requirement, but less than japanese or any other language. True, telugu, bengali and most other indian languages come under the same analysis, but hindi is more popular than those.

But, i spent a good time with the phonetics and other features of english (and telugu) for my project (that flopped badly), so I'd like you to marvel the way you can compress data with english. From ~50 to just 26 characters.

b) Although it would be great to have a language for expressing emotions, just regard that there is beauty in the fact that you can play with words and emotions in every language here. (Also, you can play with spellings and sounds in english in a way you can't with hindi). So I'd decline this aspect because most poems and most writings gain beauty from the inherent complexity.

Lastly, I have been thinking for quite a while about converting text into images as a universal language, but I've met several hitches, and i'm presently not technically capable enough to pull it off.

I'd like to leave with the message that this has already been attempted. Lojban

RG said...

Look at braille, it's universal. Except that it can be expressed in only one way and not many people learn it. But they can.

obiwankenoby said...

well heres my take on sul!

the 'special(?- make it general!) universal language' should contain some specific components-
1.visual stimulation(turn off the light please!)
2.aural supplement(bang! bang!)
3.olefactory stimulus(smelly!)
4.sensory perception(pinch!)..optional

so what pictures can suggest is low resolution videos that occupy the lowest disk space, to give the viewer an idea of the desired message.

but we can interact better with the human mind only if we can decode the process of storage of memory in the brain.

in a way this post is very much relevant to the tp posts, this is about the interaction of the conscious entities..........so the sul can only materialize only if the brain processes are decoded.

waiting for part two!

Shalinee..On MetaMinD Karma said...

Hello..(and i m tryin to be polite coz its d first time i m leavin a comment[:P])

wht u r tryin for is some what like tryin to tell indians that rice is no good and tellin americans dat bread is no good and japanese dat noodles is useless..and ultimately fuse all of them together to make a 'special universal' staple diet for d whole world and ensuring the goodness of bread, rice, noodles in one!! [:|]

ok..first wht u rspeakinof it perfect for a research paper...but do u think its practically viable?

Arun Chaganty said...

Well, its always nice to have more people posting! (since we don't do it enough...)

I personally hold a belief that humanity will equilibriate at the best option, even after a lot of sub-optimal options along the way. Does the perfect language exist? No. But I still feel that there is a better choice than english, at least english in its present form.

However, as I'm thoroughly hopeless and am interested in maths, and physics (and chem and bio), all I can say is that equilbrium points exist with a recognizable pit, and in many. English may have permeated too many people to be taken out of that minima unless something drastic happens. So, while not being the optimal solution of communication, it may just stay that way. Luckily I know more english than Hindi (or Telugu, tsk tsk), so I'm saved ;). Equilibria and the phenomenon that occur at their borders are of course a very interesting phenomemenon, but before every linguist alive issues a fatwa against me, I'll shush up.

obiwankenoby said...

i certainly do have a thing against changing the very basic rules of english as we speak it. do you know how many books i had devoured before i could tell what 'etymology' is?
but personal grudges aside, today english HAS permeated everywhere, we just take it one step further.
while reading what arun had to say, he reminds me of a modernday golan trevize trying to unify worlds.:-)
as for shalinee, this is definitely practical! we are not saying that you take up noodles as your staple food.... we are speaking of a separate mode of communication... but it definitely comes to languages at this point because the verbal mode of communication is considered the most effective.so for practical purposes speak this 'lojban'-esque language, and then then come home to your mother-tongue telegu or hindi, whatever.

but i originally wanted to add a little more to this discussion, a little abstract and probably reverting back to what saurya started with- brainwave communication(sounds technical, innit?). i am attracted to this because it is definitely stylish.figure this- human beings recognise certain situations inherently.you see certain comic books go without dialogues at all for a few pages at a time .but understand them, and belt out 90rupees in the process!
so i propose a method to unravel this mode--
1. understand the way the brain stores information and their respective clustering.
2. find methods to input this information, or mode of communication that supports the 'brain'-data type.
3. market the device and earn huge amounts of money.whippey!

and who says this cant be done!

Arun Chaganty said...

Awesome, finally, some one else who likes Asimov and the Foundation series!

///SL/// said...

Hey I just came across your blog while looking for more information on KVPY. I'm rather baffled with the lack of barriers on the project. It is so vast I don't know what they are looking for.

I know all of you are in the KVPY program, I was wondering if you could help me out. I just want examples of what you've done so I have an idea of what is required.

Arun Chaganty said...

I know what your talking about, and am facing the same problem actually!