Recently I had the experience of communicating with another person who spoke mostly French. I speak only English – sorry (like I’m not). Both of us were using Microsoft Translate App. Those who haven’t caught up will be nosily interested in whether this is a male or female person. It is a male person, and I’m not fricking gay! FFS!!
Right – so can I get on with what I was going to say? I shall. The MS Translate app worked very well. Did I say it will work well for translation between all pairs of languages? I did NOT!
Both parties to the conversations agreed that the app did a fine job. So, I’m thinking what was the app actually doing and what is ‘language’?
The languages between us was a means of communicating meaning. Did you get that? I’m not overly interested in defining what language is, for this post. Those who are obsessed can check Wikipedia. My point is, “What’s happening in all this translation?” and “How did we come to agree that the app was doing a good job?”
How well meaning was communicated was the deciding factor. It is for the two parties to make that judgement – not a computer. “Is he understanding well the ideas and thoughts I’m trying to communicate?” is the obvious question. The answer to that was ‘yes’.
But communication is not just about spoken or written language. Human beings communicate meaning in other ways ‘unspoken’. When I say ‘body language’, somebody is gonna say “Yeah I knew thaaat!” There is highly specialised software that can make some interpretations of human body language but it’s very basic in its functioning and very far from accurate.
Taking the spoken word together with body language and communicating meaning is a very human thing. The words “I could kill him!” – could mean several things depending on a) the way it is said (volume, tone of voice and speed of utterance) and b) other expressions on the face, hand movement, and posture etc.
I deviate slightly only to say that text on a page almost never comes with the unseen or unheard non-verbal aspects of the same words spoken aloud. Text on the page is therefore ‘dangerous’, in the sense that a crafty author could inject new meaning or cause others reading the words to imagine new meanings that were never intended.
But there is a problem. I often have difficulty communicating meaning even when I’m speaking to folk who speak only English. Imaginations can create all sorts of reasons for that – the type that would be drummed up by ‘Stupid‘! For example:
- You’re speaking with loads of jargon.
- You’re showing off with lots of high powered vocabulary.
- You don’t listen to other people.
- You speak too fast.
- You’re arrogant!
I say that the above is pure rubbish – and yes I would say so!
The amazing thing was that with the French guy, he was understanding more of my meanings via translator app than a majority of people who speak English. So I began asking myself ‘How is that possible?‘ – because I should expect greater difficulty.
The missing factor was ‘brain’. Yes – you read that correctly. With the French guy we had lots of differences of perspective, but that was only due to his lack of depth of knowledge and some deficiencies in thinking skills. Nonetheless we understood each other well. Not because people understand each other’s words and meaning, means they have to agree! Chrysst! I don’t like agreement – it teaches me very little.
There is something about ‘brain’ by which I mean intelligence – and I’m not going to go into all that again. Even without translator apps, I’ve communicated well with other people who have limited English language skills when their first language is something else.
So now I’m thinking that whilst language is a means for transferring meaning, the apparatus that interprets meaning has to be of a sufficient quality and standard.
But.. ooops noooo …
Stupid: Who are you to insult people about their thinking skills?!! You are so arrogant!
CW: I am the person who has qualifications in logical and critical thinking, so I am qualified to observe and comment on thinking skills. Furthermore my professional role is to analyse patterns of thinking and find disorders of thought and thinking.
Stupid: You’re not at work!
CW: Yes – but that does not stop me from using my skills gained anywhere else. I speak it as I find it.
Stupid: This is unprofessional! You’re not allowed to psychoanalyse people who are not your professional responsibility. You should be struck off by your regulatory body.
CW: Utter rubbish! I’m not psychoanalysing anybody in the way you accuse me. You are so dim – you’re using words you don’t even understand. Anybody can learn thinking skills, acquire the same knowledge I have to find disorders of thought and thinking – outside of my particular professional sphere. A street cleaner could do it.
Stupid: I’m not a street cleaner!
CW: Obviously – and I couldn’t give a monkeys. You exist because I allow you to exist. Now..
Stupid: Wait.. I know what you’re going to do.. stop!
CW: NOPE! You have no power to stop me. Time up – you’re gone! Poof!
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