Language Rationalization of Technical Terms in Asian ICT Perspective


 

Rhoderick V. Nuncio

Departamento ng Filipino

De La Salle University-Manila

Philippines

rhodnuncio@yahoo.com

 (binasa sa Singapore noong June 2, 200 at nailimbag sa book proceedings ng ASIALEX  Conference. Ang sanaysay na ito ay sipi mula sa orihinal na papel. Di maaaring kopyahin o iprint at ilimbag nang walang pahintulot sa awtor)

Abstract. There is an increasing number of new words within the practice and domains of information and communication technology today. These words typically lend hands in constructing a technical language diffused in consumerist societies understood one-sidedly by its creators/producers/owners of technology.  These words if compiled and studied reveal the following categorizations: (1) technospecialist (2) technoacademic (3) technoeconomic, and (4) technocultural.  In order to construct users/consumers own meanings of technical terms as they interface with gadgets and other technological tools they negotiate and invent words to approximate their understanding of the practice and the experience. On the one hand, the increased technical rationalization of modern society has paved the way to reflexive construction of knowledge of which technical and everyday languages, on the other hand, are more disparate and widely delineated than ever. However, it is obvious that functionality and sophistication of these machines like computers, cellphones, handhelds decrease our understanding of its “technicality.” A mere utterance of “WAP” suggests nothing but a buzzword in cellphones and palmtop use. It is understood as a “feature” and bears no lexical meaning as far as the users/consumers are concerned. It is a sign of ICT’s complexity. Hence, this paper explores the epistemological gap between technical and everyday languages and relates this assumption with ICT’s rapid innovations/evolutions and society’s modernization. How do technical words fulfill the vision of a common language, a rationalized language, as Asians embrace technology? Does it lead to that direction given the present technological condition?Or does it command a new direction to be explored due to ICT’s accelerated complexity and rationality?

Introduction

Technological innovations are involved in the increasing rationalization of social practices. The rate of change evident in a society driven by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is tremendous. For only about two decades, people are exposed and are led towards a new generation of technological way of life with the upsurge of computers, the Internet and mobile phone use. The precious commodity today is information. In fact Albert Borgmann (2000) pronounces that this is the age of technological information, i.e., information as reality. Efficiency, calculability and speed are basic engines of technological rationality. The blueprint for these wonders is framed by ICT. What is apparently happening is the novelty of appearance of knowledge space, which dramatically brings about the phenomenon of information revolution. Orality was the carrier of unmediated information, until the ecriture (the system of writing), the printing press, radio, television, and computer came. Now, information traverses wide space of actual and virtual communities within a borderless world in just a short time, in real time. Using available technology today, this amount of information, however, is mostly communicated in technical terms. Hence, a new language is being socially constructed, as ICT is being diffused and popularized at the same time to meet the demands of social change. It is at this rate of hyperchange that language is also deemly rationalized to swim through the paths of ICT, that is, to be complicit too with the demands of codifying (encoding, decoding) and translating new ways of expressions and communications. This is what the paper intends to share by mapping a chink in the domain and practice of language use of ICT technical terms in relation to the rate of technological change. The domain is typically related with modernization and rationalization laying down the groundwork for the possibility of ICT, whereas, the chink in that domain points to a need for a de-rationalized language of ICT in Asian perspective.

The process of language rationalization of technical words

If technology should have been the key towards alleviating the condition of man, its democratization in terms of accessing, understanding, communicating, utilizing and distributing it, should correspond to the level where its growth becomes expansive across cultures, nation-states, race, gender, class and time. Its democratization should start with forging a common language—a vision that can be communicated today and in the future, and that can be shared and utilized for human development and societal advancement around the globe.  Al Gore describes this in part as “the rising standards of living and literacy, and an even widening circle of democracy, freedom and individual empowerment” (Leer 1999: 7). Technology should itself be a language, a common language to all. This is the aim of the rationalization of technical language. Accessibility to that vision necessitates familiarizing with technical use through learning and mastery of technical words in meaningful discernment and actions. How do technical words fulfill the vision of a common language, a rationalized language? Does it lead to that direction given the present technological condition?

First and foremost let’s discuss the basic element of this language: technical words. Here is a simplified definition of technical words: these are specialized terms bearing material, ethereal and operational concepts about systems, processes, products, structures and services made possible by or through the use of technology.

Concepts Words/terms
Material (physical attributes) Computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard
Etheral (nonphysical attributes) Cyberspace, MUD, blog, VR games
Operational (functionality) MS word, email, chat, sync

 

This brings people closer to what we call as technical knowledge through the mediation of technical language and its relation to a technological reality. Technology is always connected with gadget, machines and equipments. It is first and foremost a material creation. Technology talks about a purpose; moreover, it gives answer to perennial questions/problems of man. It becomes a social condition when it is communicated, when it becomes part of the lives of many people.

Technical words are by-products of its corresponding reference to the material inventions/creations with these following categories: its physical/nonphysical attributes (what it is), its operations (what it offers, how it works), its users (who’s the intended user) its output/benefit (what it does), its limitation (what it can’t do), its extent (how far it can work). There are four ways in considering how technical words and technical language evolved:

1. Technospecialist domain—independent-private, commercial, or state-funded explorations, experimentations and inventions of new technological systems, processes, structures, services and products for the future. Experts, scholars, scientists, engineers and specialists converge to bring into life scientific and technological discoveries and inventions that answer present needs and anticipate future worries. Information on this regard is highly classified, restricted to few personnel and not yet for media consumption. An example of this is the birth of the Internet, which was originally clouded in secrecy by the military and the academe in the United States in the 1960s (Dery 1996). The need at time was to maintain military communication in the event of a nuclear attack (future anxiety). Technical words are “very specialized” in this regard like downlink, http, speech codex, chip rate, etc. (Lightman 2002)

2. Technoacademic domain—public sphere, opening the gates of selective and premium results of research to the public, which is actually reserved to academics. It oftentimes invites debates and confirmation or negation of claims of new discoveries in scholarly journals, in conferences, symposia and lectures.   As it survives the rigorous academic test, technical knowledge is passed on through teaching, dissemination, and evaluation. Technical words are used in academic discourse. 

3. Technoeconomic domain—national to global sphere: patenting the invention, copyright of intellectual properties, mass production, distribution and consumption. Technology enters the domain of popular culture and politics mediated by State intervention or non-intervention and by media hype with loads of publicity gimmicks. Hence, techincal words constitute a market-driven/informalized language in consumerist societies (Shortis 2001).

                4. Technocultural domain—inner sphere, sphere of consumption, appropriation, internalization (Shortis 2001). ICT users and consumers negotiate and invent words to approximate their understanding of the practice and their experience as they interface with gadgets and technological tools. It is this domain that translating technical words as part of/ as ordinary language and other forms of language (literary, humanistic, creative) becomes evident. 

Thus technical words’ meaningfulness rests on the attributes and the functionality of referents being used and understood within technical/technological conventions. It is therefore arbitrarily coined and exclusively used initially by specialists in the fields of science and technology. Furthermore as technicality reinforces functionality and utility of technology, and less its complexity, it therefore, rationalizes human and social actions, expectations, behaviors, and conditions.  A computer becomes technical because it is functional and useful, however, as soon as it chunks out it ceases its inherent technicality—it becomes an artifact with meaningless and unpurposive end. Hence, technical words common in ICT terminologies face an indeterminate erasure in each passing time as ICT revolution accelerates. The trend today is this: as ICT accelerates its technicality (upgrading and ceaseless innovation of functions and utility), the more it transforms to complexity, the more information overload comes in our way, the more technical words become meaningless, and the more people loses the direction to map out what lies ahead.

technospecialists
technoacademic
technoeconomic
technocultural
Producers and inventors ofNew technologies
Users of ICT are  narrowed down and become exclusive with highereconomic &

cultural

capital

Figure 1. Technicality pyramid-Hierarchy of language rationalization of technical words
Figure 2. Complexity inverted pyramid as a digital divide

 

Complexity and derationalization

As the level of ICT’s rapid change and innovation increase in just a short time, the amount and kind of knowledge gained or expected from it contracts or diminishes in the marginalized sectors or in newly growth areas of developing countries (like Asia). In this scenario, while the rest of the Western World and NIC (newly industrialized countries) welcome the dawn of the new milennium with the advent of 3G and 4G technologies; unfortunately, other parts of the world are still lurking in limbo: no telephone lines, no Internet, no information revolution. Innovations must deaccelerate so that developing countries could catch up. A greater space of digital divide is created if these developing countries are forced to embrace the “present technologies.” Technical words become useless as its referents are phased-out because of the fast moving upgrades and innovations in hardware and software technologies.  A formula of one “step back and one step up” means considering the potential need to know and use immediate past technologies in relation to existing ones and how this would have productive effects in anticipating and using new ones.

Another scenario is this: technological complexity takes over the lives of people and not the other way around. This is what Neil Postman  (1993) called as the “surrender of culture to technology.” It becomes a way of life where human beings could not live without technology, no matter how complex it is. Donald Norman (1998) also points out the complexity of computer in the age of ICT. According to him:

There are three major reasons for the complexity: the attempt to make a single device do too many things; the need to have a single machine suffice for every person in the world; and the business model of the computer industry. (Norman 1998: 77)

Related to the third reason of complexity, the best way to sell technogadgets is to leave rooms for curiosity and ignorance. People will become curious as media hype reign the publicity of new product. As a result, people become ignorant as they become compulsive buyers without knowing what they are actually buying and why they are buying it. Therefore it incites false curiosity and dumbfounded ignorance of mass consumers. The technoeconomic domain takes over and controls the direction of ICT as it detaches from technospecialist and technoacademic domains. What we have now is an information marketplace, which is:

…the collection of people, computers, communications, software, and services that will be engaged in the intraorganizational and interpersonal informational transactions of the future. These transactions will involve the processing and communication under the same economic motives that drive today’s traditional marketplace for material goods and services. (Dertouzos 1997: 10)

However, we have an information or ICT marketplace without a standard, singular, global information infrastructure. Ironically this is what Dertouzos (1997: 16) admittedly proclaimed in his book, What will be; as well as in Lightman’s (2002: 27), Brave New Unwired World; and in Alvin Toffler’s essay, “Shocks, waves and power in the Digital Age” (Leer 1999: 23). And since, the major economic and political gatekeepers of ICT are the highly industrialized and developed countries, the distribution and acceleration of ICT revolution and evolution are selective, narrowed down and exclusive to those who might have the capacity to buy out or implement technologies from multinational companies of these countries. Developing countries mostly from Asia and Africa have no choice but to subscribe to one-sided ICT infrastructure and to be coerced in embracing the “present” technologies.  In relation to this, language rationalization has manifested the following conditions: artificial rise of English as the standard medium of ICT and the increasing complexity of ICT. There is a tendency to have a wider epistemological gap between technical language in English and ordinary language use in Asia. Technological innovations and inventions originated mostly from the Western countries and hence it demanded the imposition of English as the language of ICT. However, innovations and inventions are not anymore the monopoly of the West. Asian countries have also earmarked on the technicality pyramid of improving and competing with American and European technologies.

  1. Japan, China and South Korea have earned respect from global market as they develop their own technospecialists reshaping the global information infrastructure (Lightman 2002: 244-298).
  2. Singapore and Japan boasted academic centers of excellence in the fields of science and technology increasing the public sphere of experts discussion and academic/scholarly exchange in the region.
  3. A dirigiste approach or the State interventionist model in policymaking, implementation and improvements of ICT in Singapore, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China has produced alternative and viable program of actions as against the neo-liberal approach of the West (Moore1998: 156-157).
  4. Technical language and knowledge are derationalized as translation, codification and internalization of technical words become evident in China using Mandarin, in the Philippines using Filipino and other Asian countries in their respective lingua franca. There is a movement of derationalizing the language of ICT to slim down the digital divide and to popularize/democratize ICT in local communities.
  5. More popular use of cellphones and the internet in Asia has led to technocultural domains of inventing and appropriating new words as Asians interact with these technologies. 

 

Conclusion

The increasing complexity of ICT and the breakdown of an English-based ICT language have led to derationalization. Asian countries are continuing to become potent partners in attaining the vision of ICT and not just as consumers of surplus technologies from the West or from developed countries. It would need more time to realize this as Asia’s role becomes significant in slowing down the acceleration of technological change. It is reshaping the information highway or dismantling the ICT marketplace as it redistributes the effects, benefits and wonders of ICT. Soon enough, Asia would become a major playing field in closing the gap of digital divide and in increasing its stakes in technicality beyond complexity. The derationalization of ICT language brings forth greater heights and higher leaps of technological change which center on meaningful actions towards human development and societal advancement.  This is the heart of an ICT perspective/vision in Asian context.

References

Borgmann, Albert (2000 ), Holding on to reality: the nature of information at the turn of the milennium. (University of Chicago Press).

Dertouzos, Michael (1997), What will be. How the world of information will change our lives (London: Judy Piaktus Limited).

Dery, Mark (1996), Escape velocity: cyberculture at the end of the century. (Hodder & Stoughton).

Gore, Al (1999), ‘Putting people first in the information age’, in Anne Leer (ed), Masters of the wired world: cyberspace speaks out. (London: Pearson Education Limited), pp. 7-17 (Ch.1).

Lightman, Alex with William Rojas (2002), Brave new unwired world: the digital Big Bang and the infinite internet (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

Moore, Nick (1998), ‘Confucius or capitalism? policies for an information society’, in Brian Loader (ed),  Cyberspace divide: equality, agency and policy in the information society (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 149-160 (Ch.9).

Norman, Donald A. (1999) The invisible computer (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press).

Postman, Neil (1993), Technology: the surrender of culture to technology (Vintage).

Shortis, Tim (2001), The language of ICT (London: Routledge).

Toffler, Alvin (1999), ‘Shocks, waves and power in Digital Age’, in Anne Leer (ed), Masters of the wired world: cyberspace speaks out. (London: Pearson Education Limited), pp. 22-30 (Ch.1).

Language Rationalization of Technical Terms in Asian ICT Perspective

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