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Is language a monolithic, unchanging entity governed by a simple and stable set of consistent rules? Hardly, yet when we speak of a language we empower such boundaries. English is treated as a single language, yet has very distinct variations from the United Kingdom to the United States to India. Indeed the significance of variation between these dialects can question whether they are in fact the same language. Other languages experience similar situations, especially when spread over large geographic regions with distinct cultures or countries. Arabic is a prime example, with native speakers extending from western Africa to India and beyond with a multitude of dialects in between. While the theoretical grammar rules are proclaimed universal, regional dialects may significantly differ in their interpretation or implementation of the language.
Language is not monolithic, nor is it unchanging. The very fact that it is spoken by different people leads to an ever shifting understanding and usage of the language. Ferdinand de Saussure understood the need to look at languages not just at a snap shot in time, but at the whole evolution of a language with the current meanings derived from the accumulated language history. Charles Sanders Peirce carried this concept further, extending language beyond merely the words on the page. Although best known for his work in defining signs as icons, indexes, and symbols, his work also established relations between the words and more tangible objects, and some very intangible concepts.
Another route was taken by John Langshaw Austin when he viewed language not in terms of objects but rather in terms of their effects. Establishing the performative nature of language served to empower the speaker or the actor. Later, Valentin VoloÅ¡inov took the works of these men and identified the key roles of animator, author, and principal as various parts of a speaker. Hearkening back to Saussure's concept of diachronic, his work looked at the effect of dialogue and how it helps direct change. Finally, Mikhail Bakhtin expanded the concept of a unitary language from a bounded entity to an array of overlapping languages which merge to create the idea of a single official unified language.
These works, although highly theoretical, maintain practical value when applied to the analysis of modern linguistic forms. In an age of ever advancing computer systems and technologies modes of communication are expanding at an unprecedented rate. Correspondingly the diachronic linguistical form of many languages continues to change at an ever increasing speed. Meanwhile, a new language of the internet, Netspeak, has grown out of the convergence of these new communication tools. As result it is relatively easy to find varied set of interlocutors effectively conversing using ever more sophisticated modes of communication. These diachronic linguistical forms are indexical of how on-going hybridity caused by innovations in mobile computing and information technology (MCIT) is creating new genres of heteroglots which are redefining modes of communication.
A language is not a unitary, monolithic object. It consists of mesh of different forms which operate together, sharing basic properties which allow for effective communication among its interlocutors. The forms of a language may include geographical dialects, registers for different social situations, or a simple preference for some words. Bakhtin referred to these forms as heteroglots, which taken as a whole within a given context may be termed a heteroglossia. Operating within this multitude, we can establish the boundaries which define a "unitary language." (Bakhtin 1981, 271)
Yet a unitary language, even so bounded, is not monolithic. Language, even a single well defined version, changes over time. Saussure recognized this diachronicity even while acknowledging that the study of languages requires them to be viewed as synchronic objects; defined and unchanging. (Hanks 1996, 12) One of the most significant causes of change was identified by Bakhtin in the dialogue that is always present within a language. Two speakers may utter the same words, yet they can have radically different meanings. As he states in The Dialogic Imagination, "It frequently happens that even one and the same word will belong simultaneously to two languages, two belief systems that intersect in a hybrid construction - and, consequently, the word has two contradictory meanings." (305)
Even the simplest of statements may be understood in dramatically different ways by different people. Peirce recognized the possibility of different interpretations. He found it necessary to identify that the meaning of a sign is determined by the person who reads or sees the sign; the interpreter. The sign which is received by the interpreter is called the interpretant, or a sign which, "addresses somebody, that is creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign." (Peirce, 99). No sign exists without the interpretant but as the speaker and the interpreter are often different people, an interpretant is rarely identical to the original concept of the speaker.
When then the difference in understanding between speaker and interpreter expands across cultures, through various mediums, and often through other interlocutors, the original concept of the speaker may be lost, although the utterances themselves may remain unchanged. The utterance may remain unaltered yet when we consider the linguistical diachronic forms we can easily see that a change has occurred. The heteroglots used by different interlocutors to understand and reproduce the utterances can cause a hybridity to develop where the words no longer match the original meaning. Thus the linguistical diachronicity can be indexical of the heteroglots involved in developing this hybridity.
Change through Performative Language
The hybridity inherent to a language is a direct result of the unique interpretants developed by interpreters for each original concept of a speaker. Yet, the nature of the original concept does not change. Peirce referred to this as a representamen which, "stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea." (99). For him language, whether the utterances or written characters, is a collection of signs where each is a "representamen with a mental interpretant." (100). Every word or symbol serves to represent an object or concept for both the speaker and the interpreter.
All languages function in this way with signs serving as symbols of objects (Peirce, 106). Yet Austin takes language a step further proclaiming that it consists of performatives and constatives. Some words contain power within themselves; they do more than merely describe a situation. When these words happen they cause something to occur and thus are deemed performatives (Austin 1962, 7). Yet these words are subject to the same diachronic tendencies as any language. The words may stay the same yet the hybridity of the interlocutors may cause the interpretants to be different. With differing interpretants it is possible for a single utterance to develop multiple actions and thus be performative in different manners.
MCIT and Performative Diachronicity
Mobile computing and information technology has a unique lexicon. Just the category invokes words from different origins that have been fused into a solid concept; MCIT. As with any new term in a language it has multiple meanings. Depending on the heteroglots of the interpreters MCIT can result in a variety of interpretants. One person may immediately consider laptop computers, another may define it as cell phones, and yet another may think of tax collectors using homing pigeons. None are wrong, or rather none are more correct than the others and instead each relies on the interpreters understanding of the context.
Of course few people these days would equate MCIT with pigeons. That definition is outside the current understanding of the genre. This genre has been developed, like any other, through the everyday usage. Thus through a consensus of usage MCIT has become defined to certain types of technology within a broader spectrum of options. Or in the words of Bakhtin the term is, "a [device] for an objective exhibiting discourse together with a specific kind of person." (400-401). People who have used MCIT have a working understanding of what the term means, although within the broader genre individuals may still have different interpretants.
In addition to developing its own technological language, MCIT has caused the creation of another, or perhaps multiple genres through the introduction of new modes of communication. Communication is not longer limited to face-to-face verbal interactions and written correspondences with delayed arrival periods. Cell phones allow for verbal interactions without the need for co-location, while email and text messages offer instantaneous transmission of written communication. The result is an increase in the dialogue for all interlocutors. When social web sites and other modes are added an amazing array of new opportunities for hybridization is available. Sites such as Facebook allow easy communication between interlocutors of radically different contexts thereby demanding a "mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance" establishing hybridity as the norm for these interactions. (Bakhtin, 358)
Beyond the possibility of misunderstood messages on Facebook it is easy to foresee a practical impact of hybridity on all languages. The modes of communication are the enabling tool yet the languages are still subject to the same diachronic linguistical forms. They have and will continue to change. Already many terms developed for netspeak, such as "lol" and "rofl" are entering everyday usage. And while these terms find their origins as acronyms from English they have been returned not as acronyms, but as unitary words which are widely recognized in English, Japanese, Suomi, Arabic, and numerous other unitary languages.
Given the widespread usage of mobile computing and information technology it is highly likely that more terms will find their way across traditionally accepted language boundaries. Even actions, or performatives will likely cross these boundaries in ways we cannot imagine. How close will these new interpretants remain to their original representamen? Future studies of language through mobile computing and information technology will offer interesting insight into diachronic linguistic forms in an age of perpetual contact.