24 March 2011

Speaking the Common Tongue...[]

I had an interesting thought yesterday, in the form of a sudden realization: there is a new language being used today, and I have already become fluent in it.

Perhaps I should be more specific: it is not, I think, a fully-formed, independent tongue, although some might argue that it does have its own grammar, morphology, etc. It is not the mother-tongue of any one or any group (to my knowledge). Perhaps a better classification, then, would be that of a pidgin or jargon.

By now, you may have guessed my subject. It is, for now, a nameless speech, and I cannot come up with a suitable one, but its components are cultural references and memes. That is, cultural references and memes not used in ordinary speech, but as ordinary speech.

The subject of memes, and Internet memes especially, is not a new one, but I've come to the realization that the appearance of such references in speech has developed to the point where I can have entire conversations nearly devoid of anything but references (similar to, but not exactly like, the game where two people speak only in song titles/lyrics). It's not uncommon, in addition, for me to replace a common phrase with a quote from a movie, song, etc. or with a meme reference (Instead of saying, "You're not getting through here!" it's "You shall not PASS!" and instead of "There are a ton of these" it's "Over nine thousand!"). I'm really only putting out my very tentative thoughts on the subject in this post, so don't expect a lot of expounding and analysis. This one's going to take a while to puzzle out completely.

What particularly struck me about this use of cultural references as speech is that this kind of language transformation was predicted by an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled "Darmok." In it, the crew of the Enterprise must deal with the Tamarian language, which has become so reliant on cultural references (they use the term "metaphor") that understanding it is impossible without first understanding the references. The individual words spoken do not matter as much as the clusters of references, understood as a single unit. The same kind of usage is visible on message boards and blogs net-wide. The words, and even the structure, of a phrase such as "I believe you have my stapler" or "Mission accepted" does not give a hearer the full understanding of the message being conveyed unless the references are also understood.

How far away, then, are we from speaking as the Tamarians? Significantly distant, I think, as most speakers of the referential tongue are also conversant (to a degree) in "normal" speech. Still...makes one wonder. Only you can decide for yourself...don't take my word for it. The power is yours.


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