Imagine an alien language – no, not French or Mandarin, something un-human, from another solar system. Would it incorporate all the ambiguities of human languages, or reproduce mathematical precision? I’ve not come across a Science Fiction story which mentions such ambiguities and sometimes it’s clear that the alien languages are more like algebra.
English is one of the most ambiguous of languages because of its grammatical simplicity. The word-endings that in Latin or German tell you how word A is related to word B are almost entirely lacking. Yet English is the nearest thing we humans have to a world language. So we have a wire coat hanger for hanging wire coats, signs advertising HAND CAR WASH to draw in people who want their hand cars washed and car boot sales at which you may expect to buy a car boot (trunk to Americans). To make things even more interestingly confusing, where writing something in full would make the meaning clear, we abbreviate, and so get the famous telegram exchange (which would be an exchange of texts today):
HOW OLD CARY GRANT?
– OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?
It’s probably clear I have a strange sense of humour and you may have guessed I like puns. Childish? Creativity is often a matter of bringing together things that people haven’t thought of as connected and of looking at things in a different way. Chance collisions can make something new, just as mutations can create new life forms and far quicker evolutionary change than could happen through Darwin’s gradual, fractional adjustments.
The best academic lecturers from time to time say something that surprises their students and makes them think. How often has a poem made you think, “I’ve never looked at X in that way”?
And what kind of person would wear a wire coat? Chicken or barbed, anyway? Electrified?