Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Doesn’t Speak The Language; He Holds No Currency

All that is glorious is infinite, and language is glorious; it achieves its omnificence through recursion.

The man played guitar.
On the stage, the man played guitar.
In the arena, on the stage, the man played guitar.
On a Tuesday, in the arena, on the stage, the man played guitar.

And so on.

Without recursion, a language’s outer boundary could be calculated; there would be a finite amount of sentences; it’s a tricky permutation problem, but someone could figure it out. With it, though, there will always be things left unsaid, never uttered or written by any human, or even computer, and not gibberish, either: the rules of English allow for a sentence of infinite length that still has meaning.

And that’s only if you follow the rules because here’s  the one trick about English they don’t want you to know: if you’re good enough at using it, you don’t have to follow the rules. Let’s just use the most obvious Dead European Male. Last chapter of Ulysses has no punctuation, which is how neither Strunk nor White would have done it, but Joyce finds some kind of cheat code to the language and puts the words in an order which does not require commas, let alone a colon.

(In this way, English is much different from baseball. If you are an incredible baseball player, you do not get to ignore the rules. Derek Jeter was a a great player, but he was not allowed to run directly to third from first.)

Language–the written version–is what brought us out of the caves, or the swamps, or Atlantis, or wherever the hell humans were putzing around before we got our shit together. Talking is good, but writing is better. Can’t have a legal code without writing. Can’t do much business. An oral society isn’t worth the paper it didn’t invent.

And please be aware that I’m aware of my biases: everyone’s aware of everyone’s awareness. I’m focusing on English because it’s the language I know. Perhaps you’re in the same boat as me: the New Jersey public school district I lived in believed that foreign languages were for foreigners. There was Spanish and French and one or two weirdo languages, but they didn’t start until high school and by that time, it’s no use. (Plus, they taught us Spanish Spanish, and that is not helpful Spanish. Mexican Spanish would have been much more useful, plus there are fewer naps.)

All languages are equal, but some are better for certain tasks than others. French is wonderful whispered, silly screamed; opera sounds ridiculous in English; Laotian doesn’t have a word for “airplane,” which makes visiting a hassle. But there might be a best. Some Asian alphabets have thousands of characters, and are not alphabets at all. English has 26, but you could get rid of “C” with no fuss. Hawaiian has only twelve letters.

Binary only has two. There’s one, and there’s zero; from there springs infinity. They’re not even numbers, really: 1 and 0 are just “on” and “off.” The simplest operation any machine can perform, and it coils out as the internet and our phones and our entire lives. Binary is the language we count the money in now.

You’re not reading English right now. You’re reading Binary translating itself into English. There’s no cash in your bank account. There’s a line of Binary assigned to you, which is accessible via a password. You think the password is your daughter’s birthday, but it’s not. It’s in Binary.

Humanity now lives in a world that speaks a foreign language. The Singularity isn’t coming; it happened years ago.


  1. SWAGGIE maggie

    May 5, 2016 at 10:47 am

    confused. talk about Latin please

  2. I think your undervaluing the accuracy of transmission in oral traditions. Think about those long Indian epics like the Mahabharata, or the entire Hindustani tradition of classical music: two high-density collections of information that have been transmitted orally for centuries.

    I’m not saying that a written language doesn’t have advantages, but humans can have rich political, social, and cultural lives without it.

  3. Written language is close to being as strange as binary.

    26 symbols put together as millions of words, play scrabble while sleep deprived and the strangeness of letters and words becomes apparent.

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