7. Spoken and written language (mild geek warning)

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The heptapods use two different languages to speak and to write, effectively doubling their communication potential in the encounter - did this convince you?

The best Planet Earth analogy I can think of is the use in certain ancient languages (eg ancient Egyptian or Akkadian) of written markers called determinatives. These indicate some quality of the word (eg "made of metal", "is a herd animal", "is a god") but so far as we know had no corresponding indicator in the spoken language. About the only similar feature which has survived into modern English would be capital letters to indicate a sentence start or proper noun - these help the reader to parse text, but do not have any analogue in spoken conversation.

Is there any connection with the extensive use of visual icons in computer and phone screens? (or road signs, for that matter)

Comments

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    I wonder if the nearest equivalent is actually computer programming languages? These have no use as spoke languages (though, I suppose they could have if that's how we interfaced with computers - but we don't). You write Alexa skills. You don't write them in English, though I'm guessing the language you use is heavily based on English. But the written language you use is what empowers Alexa to interact with various people in English (or their chosen language).

    I don't think the use of Akkadian / Egyptian determinatives is really quote the same. Their function is really to broaden the scope of a limited set of symbols. Cuneiform writing in general, being logo-syllabic, is already quote different from the spoke language, isn't it? Furthermore, Cuneiform was used to write many spoken languages, including Hittite, Hurrian, Amorite, Elamite, and Sumerian - for which it was originally developed.

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    If the written and spoken language are for different purposes, and they are, why make them the same?

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    How is this different from other forms of bilingualism? Or the differences between spoken language and sign language? The use of emoticons to express thoughts and feelings is contemporary, but people have long been doing things like calligraphy and layout-using poetry. And as mentioned in the story, mathematical notation isn't read linearly. Computer code is similar in not having a spoken form, particularly languages like APL.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I wonder if the nearest equivalent is actually computer programming languages? These have no use as spoke languages (though, I suppose they could have if that's how we interfaced with computers - but we don't). You write Alexa skills. You don't write them in English, though I'm guessing the language you use is heavily based on English. But the written language you use is what empowers Alexa to interact with various people in English (or their chosen language).

    That's an interesting analogy though I'm not totally convinced by it, mainly because computer code is what you "say" to the computer (in order to get it to do something), and the computer output (whether spoken or displayed) is what it "says" to you". With the heptapods both A and B are different versions of the sentiment going in the same direction. Maybe some computer-based analogies would be:

    1) the normal display or utterance of the program together with some debug output read to solve a problem (in both cases the flow is directed from computer to person)
    or
    2) a flowchart of the intended actions together with the final code used to deliver the result (in both cases describing a flow from person to computer)

    I don't think the use of Akkadian / Egyptian determinatives is really quote the same. Their function is really to broaden the scope of a limited set of symbols. Cuneiform writing in general, being logo-syllabic, is already quote different from the spoke language, isn't it? Furthermore, Cuneiform was used to write many spoken languages, including Hittite, Hurrian, Amorite, Elamite, and Sumerian - for which it was originally developed.

    Yes, you are right (though I might quibble with "limited set of symbols" as the symbol set is considerably larger than an alphabetic language :) ). I was thinking specifically of determinatives / capital letters being present in the written script but not in the spoken. But the wider point is interesting in itself... any written language already uses symbols which are not present in the spoken form, and the symbols have a very long history of their own. How many people consciously associate the letter A with an ox head any more? And that symbol of itself does not tell you precisely how to pronounce the syllable it's contained in - long or short for one thing, and dialect differences for the same word. So in our case the written form of our language captures only a small part of its spoken equivalent, whereas in SoyL the written form was the more complex and comprehensive.

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    I wonder if the nearest equivalent is actually computer programming languages? ...

    >

    That's an interesting analogy though I'm not totally convinced by it, mainly because computer code is what you "say" to the computer (in order to get it to do something), and the computer output (whether spoken or displayed) is what it "says" to you". With the heptapods both A and B are different versions of the sentiment going in the same direction. Maybe some computer-based analogies would be:

    But when I'm reading and thinking about code, I rarely do so linearly. At the large scale, the sequence of objects, functions, declarations in a source code file is rarely the sequence of use, or even the sequence of clearest understanding. And when you start moving outside purely imperative code, even the small scale gets non-linear. Lazy evaluation means terms may be only partially executed when declared; add structure fusion and you can write hylomorphisms that take a small initial seed, grow it to a structure of infinite size, then repack it into some different final structure, all while using only small, constant space. Constraint and logic programming are about defining relationships between things then asking a theorem prover to find a consistent allocation of values. Even SQL engines have some heavy-duty query optimisers that mean the database executes something very different from what you write (and a key part of complex query writing is understanding that optimiser, so you present queries in such a way that the optimiser rewrites queries how you want, not how it wants).

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    @NeilNjae said:
    But when I'm reading and thinking about code, I rarely do so linearly. At the large scale, the sequence of objects, functions, declarations in a source code file is rarely the sequence of use, or even the sequence of clearest understanding. And when you start moving outside purely imperative code, even the small scale gets non-linear. Lazy evaluation means terms may be only partially executed when declared; add structure fusion and you can write hylomorphisms that take a small initial seed, grow it to a structure of infinite size, then repack it into some different final structure, all while using only small, constant space. Constraint and logic programming are about defining relationships between things then asking a theorem prover to find a consistent allocation of values. Even SQL engines have some heavy-duty query optimisers that mean the database executes something very different from what you write (and a key part of complex query writing is understanding that optimiser, so you present queries in such a way that the optimiser rewrites queries how you want, not how it wants).

    Some great points, especially for the reminder that the code as written in the source bears little resemblance to the final sequence of instructions processed by the device.

    Making a (possibly strained) analogy with the film version, one of the best features to me was the depiction of how the heptapod writing was generated, in (for want of a better phrase) annotated circles. The analogy is that this circle could be parse in lots of ways - start from the top and work clockwise comes to mind as a first guess. But the actual sense of the utterance may not be most appropriately parsed in that way, but needs to be taken on board as a kind of gestalt. This is maybe the only place where the film tried to mirror the books physics dimension, as you could maybe see the circular utterance as parallel to a global conservation principle which has to be taken all at once rather than in pieces.

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    The circular writing was one of the best points of the film for me. Excellent visually as well as logically.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Making a (possibly strained) analogy with the film version, one of the best features to me was the depiction of how the heptapod writing was generated, in (for want of a better phrase) annotated circles. The analogy is that this circle could be parse in lots of ways - start from the top and work clockwise comes to mind as a first guess. But the actual sense of the utterance may not be most appropriately parsed in that way, but needs to be taken on board as a kind of gestalt. This is maybe the only place where the film tried to mirror the books physics dimension, as you could maybe see the circular utterance as parallel to a global conservation principle which has to be taken all at once rather than in pieces.

    I also liked that in the film, and thought it was a better visual choice than the logogram-y writing of the story. I liked how the writing was created in the film: pretty much all at once, without assembly from a series of strokes. It showed the alienness of the hepapods and foreshadowed their thinking.

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