Philology of the Future: Linguistics and Apocalyptic Anthropology
The introduction of language, as well as its cycling innovations, changed the landscape of our world brutally. From the first spoken word to modern meme culture, language refuses to be categorically summarized or predicted. As humanity is wont to do, we assumed our languages would remain static. That cannot be the case, and it seems humanity is currently reckoning with this linguistic change today. Especially as we move into what was called the “future” by science fiction, i.e. the 2010s and onward, we are beginning to realize a new future is taking shape amongst our words, nestled inside of our languages. Through the lens of this future-fiction, and with the state of rapidly evolving modern technology, we begin to see a new future of language take shape, one that could be plausible.
Language, and its many fields of study, encompass nearly all of human expression. With respect to the confines of this essay, however, some terms become more necessary than others when talking about how language changes. Primarily, the focus of this essay will be philology, the study of languages’ structure and anthropological significance. As this essay explores futuristic narratives in relation to language evolution, philology becomes extremely important due to its focus on how words change humanity and vice versa. Additionally, linguistics is extremely important when discussing the change that speech and written word have on language. Linguistics informs us of the changes in syntax, spelling, and grammar that happen when languages are changed. Linguistics tells us what has changed, while philology tells us why.
H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” remains culturally relevant in modernity, resisting the pull of much of science fiction now labeled “vintage.” Integral to this resistance is Wells’s utter refusal to speculate about what “the future” is: “The Time Machine” runs so far forward in its narrative that what we know as modern storytelling will likely not survive to the foretold time. Indeed, language as we currently understand it seems not to survive within the narrative. The time traveller, upon meeting what the calls the Eloi, watches as they “simply stood round [him] smiling and speaking in soft cooing notes to each other” (Wells 4.5). Language seems to have been left behind or forgotten in this future in favor of pointing and noise-making. In an article regarding the creation of alien languages within science fiction, Ria Cheyne explains that “as readers encounter a created language (...), they only acquire information about the language in order to understand the character of the beings who speak it” (396). While trying to learn the language of the Eloi, the traveller realizes they have no substantive words, only noises, but peculiarly, they do indicate specific phrases (4.14). He finds them simple; thus, the information we receive is that they are unintelligent, and that a lack of complex linguistic structures indicates an absence of any sort of social progress.
[Paragraph about languages in SF -- TTM, Bears Discover Fire, etc. Is language used as a means to separate or to unify?]
Ralph Lombreglia’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” focuses on the (mis)communication between a husband and wife in 1999. The main character, Dante, exchanges troubled emails with his distant wife, Snookie. Dante, despite being relatively proficient with technology, does not understand its social implications of his technological use. His boss’ emails go unopened and unanswered, effectively ending his career. His emails to his wife are “so cold,” she describes him as monstrous (Lombreglia 208). What we see, however, is not a monstrous man. The way these images are communicated indicates that language is changing technology, and vice versa. Dante describes several computers that have been rendered obsolete or are seemingly brand new. This mimics one of the key points of David Wittenborough’s article on technological advances: “technology might, at times, be plausibly imagined to develop incrementally in a manner describable as evolutionary” (428). This evolution has to be supported by change in other areas, which we do not see, specifically in the realm of language and communication. We see that Dante runs his wife’s emails through a randomized word processor in the hopes of finding something to ease the tension (214); he finds that she simply cannot understand his desire to rearrange her words (220). He sees it as a way to engage with the technology of the future and enhance their lives; she sees it as absurdity, thus capitulating the problems of a rapidly changing future.
[Paragraph about changing technologies influencing linguistics + philology]
[Possible paragraph about alt modes of communication via technology -- “howlers,” AI with “voices,” etc.]
[Possible paragraph about meme culture (?), if you can find a connection between a course text]