Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 25th Oct 2009 12:51 UTC
Editorial A couple of years ago, a professor at my university had a very interesting thought exchange with the class I was in. We were a small group, and I knew most of them, they were my friends. Anyway, we had a talk about language purism - not an unimportant subject if you study English in The Netherlands.
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Beauty and control
by earksiinni on Sun 25th Oct 2009 18:45 UTC
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Thom, it's an interesting comparison except that the endurance of a culture and the confidence of its adherents in its endurance are fundamentally different from the viability of a business and the confidence of a community that is formed around a certain business's products in that business. I don't presume to lecture you on Business 101, and I commend your creativity, which I think a lot of the commenters didn't really get. However, I think that the long-term endurance of cultures and languages is a lot more effervescent, not in that it will disappear but rather that their language and ways will vaporize and fill far flung nooks and crannies influencing countless people in innumerable ways, or perhaps that they will stay in one place but that they will retain the spirit that defined them in the beginning. Regardless, cultural endurance implies a certain degree of a lack of control--but then again, speaking as an American from the English tradition where language is extremely deregulated, I am biased.

A business, on the other hand, depends on control because its aims are different. Albeit Apple is a visionary company that has influenced many facets of culture and life, that is perhaps an after effect or even a prerequisite to a more important goal: profit. Profit has no confidence or faith or vision or any of that, it's just a number, and when your business strategy that relies on a apparent/real integration between hardware and software is being compromised, stockholders will get worried. The relationship between confidence and overt controlling action that you mentioned with regards to Dutch purism is inversed in a business context, and if Apple were to let Psystar have its way, investors would perceive this as a weakness precisely because they have no confidence in Apple because "confidence" is not applicable. An analyst's confidence in a company is based on a very small set of assumptions. Challenge just a couple of them, like the assumption that the company's leader and chief visionary will remain in good health or that they have achieved a unique integration between their hardware and software, and the markets will grow skittish. It's hard for me to understand the rest of the Mac "community" since I'm not part of it, but I suspect that their sentiments are not so far off, and even if they are not shareholders then they certainly have more of a vested interest in making sure that their champion is profitable so that it will continue manufacturing the equipment they love rather than to see their influence spread to all corners of the Earth as a real language would (or that the spirit of the platform would be retained in some uncertain future, especially since in Apple's case the exclusivity and "tight integration" seem to be so much part of that spirit).

Thom, I'm curious, what's your take on the Nederlandse Taalunie? Is it influential at all? I'm actually bilingual with Turkish, and I know that the Turkish government has, like many other countries, a similar body called the Turk Dil Kurumu (Turkish Language Institute) that seems to have uneven influence. It managed to get a lot of Arabic and Persian words replaced with Turkified versions, which I think is very unfortunate and has turned many parts of the language into a weird German faux-Frankenstein replete with odd compound words that don't make any sense unlike in German (and Dutch, correct?) where the combinations, especially when prefixes are involved, are used in a way that makes sense historically and "ad sensum". Most unfortunate is the lifting of the caret, which used to mark the "thin vowel" sounds taken from Arabic and has made many words curt and blunt like in English but without any of the smoky undertones or rounded edges (i.e., "paper", kâğıt (pr. KYAAT) --> kağıt (pr. KHAT) ). Unlike many languages, they've also managed to replace many technical terms with native versions, the most infamous being "computer" with "bilgisayar" (literally, knowledge-counter). Interesting aside: my parents were college students in Turkey when they were asked to come up with Turkish versions of technical terms, and if you open up a Turkish dictionary today and look up "triangulation" you'll see the word my dad invented in the 60's!

In many ways, however, the Turk Dil Kurumu has had no influence whatsoever on the use and abuse of foreign words in spoken and written Turkish. There are too many examples to even give a sampling, but I will give two particularly colorful instances. The first is that the English word "meeting" has long had its counterpart in "toplantı" (literally, gathering), but the word "miting" (pronounced similarly to "meeting") has arisen to describe large political rallies, which sounds like a tongue-in-cheek joke to a native English speaker. The second is an anecdote from my mother, who had gone to the supermarket to buy my grandmother an electric fan. Having grown up in Turkey in the 60's and moved to America in the 70's, her Turkish is fluent but a bit dated, and so she asked whether they sold any "pervane"'s (fans). The young lady working there looked at her quizzically and called her manager, a middle aged man who still didn't understand my mother's request. After some deliberation, it dawned on the young woman that what my mother was looking for was a "fan". My mom got pretty mad at this bastardization and asked if there was a more Turkish word for fan, to which the manager suggested "ventilatör" (ha!) Later we learned that "pervane", the original Persian word, has now come to mean the actual rotor blade assembly of a fan (e.g., a helicopter's blades would be called "pervane").

I wonder more about the aesthetic argument implied in all this rather than any comparisons between the confidence of a language's speakers and that of a company's users. Beauty and control have an intimate relationship, and casting aside any political criticisms for a moment there is some merit to imposing a strict language policy, as there is in the Francophone world. For that matter, I've heard French people say that French-speaking Africans speak the most beautifully because their French is completely academic as it's learned mostly in school rather than in the streets. But of course English and Dutch are also beautiful to behold (leaving aside the old English/German joke about Dutch ;-), though in a very different way. The rules and order have arisen organically, and I would point out that the most authoritative reference of the English world (the Oxford English Dictionary) is not a collection of definitions as most dictionaries are but is a collection of sentences and examples in which the words have been used over the centuries.

That historical approach doesn't work with personal computing because we haven't had the same interval of time to judge how platforms will influence each other in the long run--yet. More fundamentally, for the same process to apply, we need to think of computers as adhering to similar rules of order and beauty, and as of yet we are still thinking of them as tools rather than works of art or "worlds unto themselves" as, say, books and sculpture are. Apple is trying to achieve "art" status for OS X even if only to raise their bottom line, but there will always be control issues anytime a body announces a new form of art. Look at how the Nazis rejected "entartete Kunst" to herald the advent of their own "new" art or the development of socialist realism in the Soviet Union. I wouldn't extend the analogy to the current legal battles over movie and music copyrights because that's a purely legal issue. I'm talking more as a quasi-Marxist here, that there is a spiritual and aesthetic struggle for the means of production of new art forms that is translated into a political/legal struggle. In a business context, such a struggle is occurring because Apple and the computer industry as a whole has not yet found a way to make art profitable.

Reply Score: 7

RE: Beauty and control
by Kroc on Sun 25th Oct 2009 19:28 in reply to "Beauty and control"
Kroc Member since:

That was a really good read, thanks.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: Beauty and control
by frajo on Sun 25th Oct 2009 19:45 in reply to "Beauty and control"
frajo Member since:

Most interesting posting. Thanks a lot.

Reply Parent Score: 1