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Language is a virus from outer space

So far, we (meaning I) have looked at language and translations as:

a deterrent to cultural genocide

a form of time travel

something maybe invented by God (by way of the fault of ancient Babylonians)

something constantly flowing, moving, changing, communicating actively

And generally, the fact that we are, within this industry, working with material that gradually changes over time (sometimes, within a matter of weeks or days if we’re talking things as different as client term bases or perishable information like hotel and restaurant reviews, products offered on an e-platform, etc.), and so what once was might not be as it is now. I think this is called the Future. And paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much better.

But then again, it used to be so different before, right? I mean, some translators used to be burnt at the stake! I wonder how some of my more frustrated co-workers might see that. I mean, it’s not done anymore (not literally at least), but I can’t help but think it still crosses people’s minds. Well, I suppose this is why we work through different processes after the translation, with editing, proofreading, and QAs. Maybe William Tyndale needed a quick QA just before handing it in? As I think Mark Twain or Hunter Thompson (or maybe it was you) once said: the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and lighting bug.

Most recently, we (meaning I) have been looking more at how language is mutating, a Terrance McKenna-inspired look at visible language, with the presence of technology and our possible trend towards more abbreviations, more instant communication – faster, more, now. It makes for an interesting case study. I mean lots of people these days communicate wordlessly, not just not speaking, but not even communicating with words, that habit of emoticons and animated gifs to communicate. So where does that leave you, the translator, in the Future? How would translators from decades ago react to this now, this sort of xenoglossy of visual language? Does it affect the task of the translator? Most probably not, since I’ve yet to see a legal contract with emoticons. Though Terrance McKenna goes out and theorizes that maybe meetings with attorneys for example (and hell, even spaceships, he says) will be handled using purely visible language for it is more immediate, universal, and direct. Again, I can’t see myself signing a contract made up of little symbols.

But: ah-ha. That’s just it. What I’m typing now, what you’ll later read, and what will later get translated in at least one other language, is also just that, a collection of symbols. William Burroughs said that the written word was literally a virus that made spoken word possible. An Egyptian hieroglyph may be a symbol representing itself, but with something like English the word “computer” has no resemblance to an actual computer, it refers to the spoken word “computer”. Therefore, Burroughs says that a written word is an image and that written words are images in sequence, that is to say moving pictures. So any hieroglyphic sequence gives us an immediate working definition for spoken words. Spoken words are verbal units that refer to this pictorial sequence. And what then is the written word, he asks. It’s a virus that made us speak.

So, now I’m saying, to those participating: translation as a flu-like viral mutation. Spreading (even like an outbreak?). And what of a sequence of emoticons then? Another type of virus perhaps. It goes beyond spoken language. It might even go beyond translation.