What does Traditional Linguistics inform to Data Science and Policy?

Society chose to trust social media. The problem, over a decade after its mass adoption and with no need to list the transformations in the sector — from within the industry and outside, according to public perception — seems to be that we never really understood media or social movements. Maybe we didn’t like those. You’ll hear politicians talk about the media like some inherently corrupt system of rewards and distribution of misinformation. What’s less spoken about is the origin of the word, something that traditional Linguistics helps explain, as well as a multitude of other debates over which common people and powerful corporations have shown intense interest with a comparable set of intentions.

Nobody wants to known or be schooled about the printing press, but at the same time, we live by the sanctimonious and spread ideas that are known to date from thousands of years ago. The Greeks believed there was divine inspiration for producing art, and that had connections with power. Philosophy, on the other hand, benefited all of society and still doesn’t have the same kind of attention. We’re supposed to know what a platonic relationship is, but it seems we’re more interested in the apocalypse. As a reader and writer, I don’t exactly place myself in a neutral point. It is a duty I have to say that we must not dream of a better society without fighting for it, and sometimes lose so often that we’d rather keep things as they are. I just think there’s a difference, which is very clear, between attacking and defending. The powerful would love to see their challenges turned into mythologies, epic battles, a showcase of weaponry. The powerless seek to understand what is and why. Their challenge, very frequently, is to stay alive to tell the story; but there’s no time for a story, because real life has more objective principles, not the making of a hero. And so the rest of us seek for the outstanding and the pitiful, the wonderful and the repulsive. What drives this is Ethics, which in turn is what drives Justice. And the laws are made to preserve this beautiful concept, with little to no attention to its logical opposite: for everything that’s legal, there’s something illegal; from everything that’s just, there’s something unjust.

Society is organized by laws, rules, norms, culture and habit. The latter could be associated with the smallest things we don’t think about: “what made me click on that link?” From that alone, we can’t establish relationships between all other listed elements. Data analysis claims to be able to. Clicking on a link has no grand merit, but if you’re the one who gets clicks, you’ll get a few grand. How that mechanism operates is what everyone needs to be aware of, and it seems like a challenge that, again, interests many groups of people. Now, in terms of which side you’re on when investing your time in deciding what’s legitimate and what is not; what’s authentic and what is not; what’s true and what is not, observe the shades. Morphology is the recognition of patterns. So is data science. There’s a clear difference between “legitimate” and “legal”. I could steal someone’s identity, claim to have the documents that are indeed legitimate, and if nobody spotted me, I’d be right; but that’s illegal. And it seems like identity is a concept we’re struggling with, in a world where appearances matter more than most things we can recognize in our environment.

Corrupt and abrupt are associated by their morphology, but different in their syntax and their meaning: one can be a process; the other can be an event. Both are precisely associations, but only one of them can be a verb. To corrupt is to disturb as a mode of turning the aspect of something. This could be a process and an event. An illegal action, not illegal activity, could turn someone corrupt. Abruptly? It depends. It also depends of your involvement, which turns to social elements that the media will surely explore. But how did social media make its ways into our subconscious? Was it in a sudden manner? Or was it in a complex arrangement of situations that entangled opportunity, ambition, ego, motives, paybacks and a desire for creating a mechanism of power? Nobody’s judging: many of us have used the power of social media. But how has social media used us — and deprived us of our power? Maybe another area of traditional Linguistics might explain: Phonology. In practice, an alveolar, voiced fricative can turn what’s “just” into “dust”, but in theory, it’s the other way around. Sometimes it’s plosive, others not, depending on the language. But language has its intricacies, and so does its context, so adequately tied to identity.

In a context where data science informs us that the tendency is for hikes in interactions to be observed, it might be useful to remember Martha’s Vineyard’s lesson: quality and quantity are not easily measured or separated. Context, however, a focus of Discourse Analysis (and we won’t have the time to address Linguistics as it is used today, by artificial inteligence and programming tools, with the “legitimate” cause of preserving interaction quality), informs that this location has been on the news for being a destination of immigrants in the United States of America. Just sent there. Like the immigrants of Ukraine found Poland, or the South American continent found its way in between Portuguese and Spanish: so many similarities, but quite a few differences. For an illegal alien working at a restaurant, maybe “muy guapo” or “hermosa” would sound different than “hot”, in case they exchanged messages with someone on social media; and while Portuguese speakers might hear gender opposing “gostosa” or “gostoso”, their lives would still be connected to the restaurant (and you’re smart enough to notice who’s to lose), not a home they own, sometimes counting with protection. But you see, this protection was granted because if laws, without a capital letter, hadn’t been passed to ensure the citizen (not the illegal alien) had the right to protect him or herself, some would call this protection a “regression”; they would say it’s “legitimate”; others would call it “illegal”. What traditional Linguistics has to offer is not what tradition has always presented us. We have to reimagine language. We have to look at communication in a movement of desire — desire to communicate, but much more than that. At the same time, we have to separate desire from intention, and those from action. So far, we’ve been walking towards the opposite direction, because of how “modern” Applied Linguistics can be. We talk to the wind, but they want a gag rule. Context will tell you: the wind will be stored somewhere, and there will be a storm, eventually.

Leave a Reply