The Lifeboat Foundation, an organization dedicated to the analysis and prevention of threats to human existence, has a blog post on the reduction of richness and complexity in language titled A Future of Fewer Words. It interests me because I feel that our learning methodology is unintentionally part of that process.

lifeboat_foundation-resized-600The areas of loss that they identify are:

  • Dying languages. Thousands may disappear this century because of globalization.
  • While most parents are using worksheets for teaching their young one’s contraction words, others have resorted to audio-video learning due to less time.
  • Written words are losing their magical authority.
  • Neural structures are changing measurably to deal with increased visual complexity and reduced linguistic complexity.
  • Machine translation reduces the need for linguistic skills, just as calculators reduce the need mental arithmetic.

At Andromeda Training we teach business finance through our Income/Outcome board games. We put with an emphasis on social interaction and the physical movement of colored objects as a way of discovering and understanding foundational concepts. We have very limited lectures, explanations and readings, and focus much more on direct experience. This learning methodology is much more effective than books and lectures – why should we argue against it?

But on the other hand, personally, I write poetry. I write deliberately language-rich verse, so packed with rhyme and complex phrasing that it is virtually unpublishable in the US and appears mostly in Ambit in the UK. What is the value of it? I don’t know, but I find it essential. I like languages, and I like linguistic complexity, subtlety and beauty – at least for recreation, not necessarily for business communication.

As for the future… we are just at the beginning of brain-to-brain communication without the intermediaries of speech or gesture. What will happen to language then? Will we be able to avoid thinking in words? Obviously it’s possible – babies, animals and drunks do it all the time. What happens to language if we can communicate in this way? What parts of the brain will we develop, what will we neglect?

The least we can say is that existing trends regarding loss of languages and reduction in language skills will accelerate for the foreseeable future. If you want to resist that, read poetry to your children.