I really should stop reading books that have anything to do with Linguistics. Or disability. Or, God help me, both.
This book had entertaining pI really should stop reading books that have anything to do with Linguistics. Or disability. Or, God help me, both.
This book had entertaining parts. It was written fairly well, and I read through it quickly, but it had some cardinal, essential problems inherent in its premise both philosophically and structurally that I had a lot of trouble dealing with.
For one, speaking as a Linguist, while the idea of children born without the ability to comprehend or produce language is actually really entertaining to me, that's not how language works. more importantly, that's not how the communication method they settled on in the end work. And it's not how the human mind works, either.
There is this bizarre idea that non-linguistic communication is more sincere, that our language (our languages, I should say; all of them) leads to some kind of disconnect, to potential dishonesty, to incomprehension, to shallowness, to wars, to whatever-will-you... And people've been trying to fix this apparentl lack, basically for the entire duration of human history. They've been trying to create philosophical languages, universal languages, natural languages, languages-without-language... Again, without count, really. Everybody had this notion that language should be improved in order to facilitate all these things the authors hammered on; happiness, peace, direct rapport. None of it worked. None of it ever worked.
There is an actual reason for that. The reason is that linguistic ambiguity isn't a bug, it's a feature. it doesn't hide our true selves from us, more likely it actually facilitates our ability to communicate those true selves with a sufficient shorthand notation that we can actually do it expediently. It allows us to process abstract ideas through metaphor that we could not otherwise grasp, and to classify things. Basically, the notion that we might be better off, more in tune with ourselves, without language, is romantic drivel.
In the same vein, if what the kids were doing was what the authors were actually describing them as doing - aka, exchanging a set of consistent signals about extemporaneous event or non-immediate topics - they were using language, and it really doesn't matter whether they were doing it with their voice, their hands, or their faces. It's the principle that matters.
Then there's the disability part.
Geez, I dunno. We've bounced through all sorts of weird perceptions of disability, and gone full circle to something. There was a time when people with disability were seen as inherently different on the mental level - worse, or more magical, or a combination of both - and I guess now we've gone right back to that sort of inherent incompatibility assumption. I suppose there's no denying that there is some difference to how people with a disability would see the world, but, at the same time, somehow all these non-verbal people are described as universally happier, better, I can't even begin to catalogue it.
This whole culture of disability, almost a kind of odd disability-worship, a bowing to difference for the sake of difference, really drives me nuts. And of course fixing it is evil! Of course the implant is evil! Oh my God how could we write a 'cure' that isn't evil, even if its evilness makes zero sense! I mean, the authors realize, i hope, that you literally couldn't just manipulate someone's language the way the describe right? And naturally there would be no FDA regulations to carefully standardize the implants. I mean, we all know that today's cochlear implants are infinitely content-blockable and you can make your implanted kid never hear a curse word if you so choose, right?
Plus, implants change your whole personality, just like you flipped a switch. Makes sense. All the memories and inclinations and things defining who you are which oftentimes have nothing to do with language would suddenly and drastically change, to the extent that you'd become a straight up different person. That always happens with implants, just ask all the people who have artificial teeth.
The implants are evil motif is such a horrible turnoff for me, I can't even begin to describe it. If corrective technology is so evil and eliminates whole cultures, I require that all of you people who wear corrective photon modifiers attached to your field of vision, take them off right now, and revel in the difference as you experience the world in an unaltered and unique way.
And if you don't think that living without your glasses with distance vision of 20/200 doesn't profoundly affect your experience of reality, boy do I have a newsflash for you.
There were also actual, real problems with the book's style and writing. All the characters spoke with the same 'voice' whether they were immigrants from Africa, teachers, or what-have-you. After a while the snippets became rather tedious especially due to a lack of variance.
Plus, the gimmick of the book bugged me on a stylistic level, as well. The whole idea that I as the reader have to travel around the world to access the field reports because they 'cannot be understood outside of their natural environment' went contrary to my entire expectation from a book. A book is supposed to send me places by force of word alone, without my needing to go there. I am supposed to be able to travel without traveling, and to understand the sense of place without needing to stand on the spot itself. That is part of what a book is for.
I won't tell you not to read this book (or app, or whatever(; it's readable and it's a fun sort of sci-fi story. I suppose, but do try not to take it too seriously....more