Foreword: On the nature of language in the far future
On the nature of language in the far future.

There have been many attempts, in the annals of science fiction, to portray accurately a far-future setting. The Orion's Arm setting aims to chronicle the evolution of human-kind over the course of 10,000 years.

A laudable aim.

Language is always difficult, in a project such as this. There are many different ways to deal with language. Obviously it is foolish to assume that language will remain the same over the course of humanity's future; to see the evolution of language in action, read some of Chaucer's work, written only a thousand years ago. Olde Englishe is a very different beast indeed to modern English, or even its prodigal son American English.

But how will language change in 10,000 years time?

Orion's Arm is a work of transhumanist literature. Central to its precepts is the assumption that the transhumanist singularity will occur. And the commonly held definition of the singularity is that it is the point where technological change occurs so fast that the future becomes no longer comprehensible to us today.

How do you represent the language of an incomprehensible future?

In this work, I have retained standard literary techniques for representing language. Characters "speak" to each other using modern rules of grammar; they hold "conversations" in a way that is familiar to us. I use new words in many places to denote new concepts - that is, after all, what science fiction is all about. Many of those words are descended from our own English language - Virch is a corruption of the word Virtual, Ril is a shortening of the phrase "Real Life" (and a commonly used word in today's online society - language continues to evolve). Zar is a general-purpose term of address - a gender-neutral "sir". And "ops" is a contraction of "operating system", used here to refer to the core of a virtual's being - it's soul, if you will, although for a being as mutable as a virtual, the concept of soul bears very little similarity to what we would understand today.

What I want to stress is that, in 10,000 years, language will not in any way resemble what has been written here; I must simply represent it that way for the sake of clarity. Lanuage will not follow the same rules of grammar, or of expression; I do not believe that language will even be spoken, in the sense that we understand it.

A few languages are specifically mentioned within this work. Solarian or Solarese is the lingua franca of the Solar Dominion. Cyberian is the language of the Cyberian Network. The Metasoft Version Tree is in itself an integrated set of protocols, language, and a high-order operating system. Ainglish is perhaps the closest to what we would recognise as a language; it is a derived language, the evolution of English with healthy contributions from Russian, Indian, and many other Asian, European, and South American languages. In the year 10,000, even Ainglish is a long-dead language.

The others are polyglots - multi-modal languages. They may contain a spoken component, but that component may be no more than a subtext to a rich data stream. The languages of the future will, I believe, carry more than just concepts described with spoken or written word; they will carry entire emotional content-streams, visual inputs, and sensory immersion. Why describe your sadness? Simply transmit it to your audience and let them experience it first-hand. Why describe the appearance of your partner? Transmit their picture. Better still, transmit your experience of them - let your audience feel the texture of their skin, the sound of their voice, the smell of their perfume, and the emotions they engender within you by their presence.

In the future, the line between biological human and manufactured machine becomes more blurred as technology progresses. In the future, a child born to biological parents - bionts, in the terminology of the setting - may well have inbuilt nanotechnological augmentations at birth. In fact, they may have already been integrated into the DNA of the parents, transmitted in the act of conception to develop during gestation. Genetically heritable augmentations. Bionanotechnology means that a manufactured machine might incorporate many structures that a biont would, even being able to reproduce asexually - or sexually, in the strictly biological sense of the term.

When the line between born and built becomes so indistinct, so must the line between natural and manufactured language. When an artificial intelligence is able to process a transmission several orders of magnitude faster than a biological one, natural competitiveness dictates that the biological mind will try and keep up. Reading words off a page - processing visual inputs, parsing them to form verbal concepts, and then parsing those verbal inputs again to turn them into imagery - is inefficient when the advent of direct neural interfacing makes introducing imagery directly into the sensory centres of the brain possible.

Images, sounds, and data, all inserted directly into the mind. A vast glut of information necessitating the engineering of new brain centres and neurological processes, merely to accommodate it.

The evolution of human language.

A laudable aim.

Michael Jones

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