Is the future oral?

As we sit here this morning, I am reading of Berber languages, and W is reading of Sumer and Akkadian.

Berber, and the Tamasheq variant that particularly interests me, has had a long life as an oral language.  Sumerian is one of the first known written languages, and while there is a sample of someone reading Gilgamesh in Akkadian, it was a language that was dead long ago, and we modern humans really do not know what it sounds like. The recreation, however, is beautiful.

Many of the languages which die off are oral languages, the last speakers die, and thus the language goes with it. This has long been a concern of linguists, and the popular press doesn’t seem to make it through a year without a piece about it as well.

The rise of social media based on images, the use of video, and the use of emoji are all interesting language shifts at play now. It is difficult to make any long ranging assumptions, but that makes it no less interesting than to watch younger demographics (in particular) prefer to engage with English in its oral form. Not just the in-person conversations that have always existed (and it may be argued that the in-person is diminishing) but the endless youtube videos and channels with millions of followers.  The language variations spoken by many of these English speakers are certainly not the written language that we find in standard texts, lexically and grammatically.  The use of emoji shifts English to a pictographic language, rather than a symbol corresponding to a sound, it corresponds to a concept or an idea.

There are thus, interesting ideas about the future of the visual language, both photographic and iconic/ideographic, which I am not going to touch at this time.

What I wonder however, if there will be an orality of language that is prioritized in the future, that shifts the current power and status dynamic in which unwritten languages are a lesser language, an archaic form from a culture which has ‘failed to develop’ despite the many ways in which the more oral languages do have advantages in a cultural context.

Imagining a world in which oral English is how stories are shared, that this access to the storytellers is required, beyond books, to belong, to understand, is a world we have, perhaps, never lived in, not in the modern English that we speak now. It would have been centuries since English was predominately oral, and it was an earlier version of English. Back to the time of the bards, except this time around, our bards will be digital.



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