"Text," starts Larry Wall in a late section of the article my good friend just sent me. And Wall goes on: "I read that word from a postmodern perspective. Of course, the term Postmodern is itself context-sensitive. Some folks think Postmodernism means little more than the Empowerment of the Vulgar."
Now Wall has developed a computer programming language, with a community of other people. They call it Perl. They call it postmodern. And they call it that because it's so like people language.
Wall continues, noting some big ironies:
But I take Postmodernism to mean that a Text, whether spoken or written, is an act of communication requiring intelligence on both ends, and sometimes in the middle too. I don't want to talk to a stupid computer language. I want my computer language to understand the strings I type.
Perl is a postmodern language, and a lot of conservative folks feel like Postmodernism is a rather liberal notion. So it's rather ironic that my views on Postmodernism were primarily informed by studying linguistics and translation as taught by missionaries, specifically, the Wycliffe Bible Translators. One of the things they hammered home is that there's really no such thing as a primitive human language. By which they mean essentially that all human languages are Turing complete.
When you go out to so-called primitive tribes and analyze their languages, you find that structurally they're just about as complex as any other human language. Basically, you can say pretty much anything in any human language, if you work at it long enough. Human languages are Turing complete, as it were.
Human languages therefore differ not so much in what you can say but in what you must say. In English, you are forced to differentiate singular from plural. In Japanese, you don't have to distinguish singular from plural, but you do have to pick a specific level of politeness, taking into account not only your degree of respect for the person you're talking to, but also your degree of respect for the person or thing you're talking about.
So languages differ in what you're forced to say. Obviously, if your language forces you to say something, you can't be concise in that particular dimension using your language. Which brings us back to scripting.
How many ways are there for different scripting languages to be concise?
How many recipes for borscht are there in Russia?
Language designers have many degrees of freedom. I'd like to point out just a few of them.
Now what I want to point out is how very feminist Text is (as postmodern, as Perl-ish, as linguistic, as liberated by good translation theory, even for translating the Bible).
I am talking about feminism that insists on equal empowerment of women and men. We must say this. And if Wall says "In English, you are forced to differentiate singular from plural" then let's force ourselves to decide whether the "you" in his English sentence is singular or plural. Wall would be the first to agree that we the people decide. So when Yuwei Lin says there's a gender digital divide, then we are forced in English to take that seriously, to make some decisions.
I am also talking about feminism that is Text-ual in a very whole-person way. So when Allison Randal says "know your roots," she's talking about Kenneth and Evelyn and Eunice Pike's tagmemics, which is about as personal-able a language theory for translation as ever invented. Now, that's some rhetoric, some empowering. The Pikes and Wall and Randal never called tagmemics, or human language for that matter, feminist. But we can. Do you know what's vulgar about text? Do you know your roots?