by Stuart Gathman

The Disappearing Alphabet

The Disappearing Alphabet

“Not Invented Here” syndrome and the language wars

The alphabet is going away. Controls on machines, electronic or otherwise, now use ideograms instead of words. I wouldn’t be so annoyed if they used an existing system of ideograms (like, say, Chinese used by billions of people). But no, they have to invent an entirely new system out of whole cloth. Now we have a daily struggle to decipher a language which is evolving daily, has no extant literature, no textbooks or even dictionaries, and hundreds of dialects. I have to help my family with questions like, “Dad? What does the character with 3 different sized circles in a horizontal row, a horizontal line underneath, and a short vertical line on the left mean?” (“I think that means Check Engine - look in the owners manual, maybe they have a translation.”)

I often hear it said that “young people understand technology”. On a surface level, that is blatantly false: young people have very little understanding of how computers or any modern technology work. Any actual questioning of their understanding quickly reveals monstrous misconceptions and ignorance. What young people are doing is learning a new language - which they can do much more quickly than adults. And I’m not talking about something useful like a computer language or a foreign language (although a few are doing that as well). Young people learn almost instantly what 2 short vertical lines next to each other means on a button, or what a circle with a single radial segment at the bottom means on another button.

Quick quiz: what does two diagonally crossed lines - where the upper left to lower right line has a small semi circle on each end, and the lower left to upper right line is thicker at one end than the other - mean?

Extra credit: if you took on the project of creating a dictionary for the evolving Western ideograms (which would lock in a nice income stream for some time due to the regular updates needed), how would you sort the characters? (Hint: look for existing practice in another system.)

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