The Relationship Between Language and Computing

In chapter 3 of The Information, Gleick discusses how during the 16th century, people had not come to a consensus on the spellings of words. He uses the example of a 1591 pamphlet where “the word cony (rabbit) appeared variously as conny, conye, conie, connie, coni, cuny, cunny, and cunnie…Others spelled it differently” (55). I found that although there were nine different spellings of one word, the author still spelled it with the letter ‘C’. To me, this begs the question: Who is to say that cony is not spelled with a ‘K’?

This led me to think about English as a discipline. I have always said that English is an easy subject because you can argue anything, as long as you have sufficient proof to convince your audience. As Gleick reminds us, historically, “language did not function as a storehouse of words, from which users could summon the correct items, preformed. On the contrary, words were fugitive, on the fly, expected to vanish again thereafter” (55). I feel that this version of language, that is temporary and ever-changing, lines up with my thoughts about English more than contemporary ideals. I think this way because whether you write a sentence that says “I buy a pair of pears every week,” but you wrote “I by a pear of pairs every weak” instead you still understand the message. At the same time, I found it surprising that there were not any grammar rules and regulations prior due to the fact that the numerous spellings of a single word could possibly be confused for completely different words. What comes to mind is the difference between “red” and “read” where the spelling could affect a reader’s understanding of the text. As time goes on, words become more permanent as stories are no longer shared solely orally.

Gleick asserts that “the availability – the solidity – of the printed book inspired a sense that the written word should be a certain way, that one form was right and others wrong” (55). I could not help but think about how the computer combines the uncertainty of words prior to print as well as the certainty that these grammar rules bring. What I mean is: digital texts are always subject to editing thus making them less certain, but many aspects of the computer prevent the same fluidity that oral tradition provides. For example, autocorrect will put that little squiggle under words that it does not recognize, signifying that it has been programmed to determine what is right from wrong. At the same time, the person who programmed the autocorrect had to spell all their tags correctly and make sure they are in the right place or the computer is literally unable to “read” it, thus incapable of carrying out the command. The difference between and could change the entirety of whatever you are working on. Meanwhile, if I spell something wrong in a paper, my professor will still understand what I meant I would just be incorrect.

There are definitely certain expectations in regards to spelling and grammar in any field. However, I feel that the difference is in the penalties for ignoring these ideals. In the humanities, communication is more based on the message rather than the details of the message. At the same time, computing is based on the details of the message, how the message will be conveyed. Due to these parameters, I think that the solidity of language is more important for computing as the use of incorrect spelling will greatly change the results of a project. Considering that, I believe the humanities is more fluid and forgiving (despite the adoption of these guidelines) because my message will be understood despite the misspellings.

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