If language is a virus, like American novelist William Burroughs suggests, then our minds are the machine or computer. Because our minds are the central location for the formation of our words and sentences. Jussi Parikka defines a virus in the book “Digital Contagions.”
By definititon, viruses have been conceived as a threat to any computer system for (1) virus activity is always uncontrollable, because the actions of the virus program are autonomous, and (2) viruses behave indeterminately and unpredictably.
But what does Burroughs mean by language as a virus? Kim Knight, a scholar in the field of viral media, suggests he means that language is a “mechanism of control that affects your processes of thinking without your outside control.”
If that is truly is what Burroughs is suggesting, that language is a virus, then we must compare it to the definition of a virus given by Parikka in “Digital Contagions.”
- Language activity is always uncontrollable, because the actions of the language program are autonomous.
- Language behaves indeterminately and unpredictably.
(replacing virus with language)
Before we can compare a virus and lanuage we need a proper definiton of the term language. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary language is the following:
1. The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
2. Any nonverbal method of expression or communication: “a language of gesture and facial expression”.
Language is obviously not just restricted to words, but also includes body language and facial expressions. Does this change what you believe about language as a virus? Let’s say for a second language is a virus; does that mean our words and other body gestures are viruses as well? This would implicate that we do not have control over what we say or what body gestures we make. Or do we not include these types of expressions.
Maybe Burroughs is saying that we have control over what we think and what sentences we formulate and instead the words we speak or the language that we express becomes a virus. Once we express those words, verbal or nonverbal, we have no control over how they are interpreted or how they will evolve when they reach the intended source. Because the languages’ actions are autonomous, what if that language reaches an unintended source? Does our language then become a threat?
Secondly, we are not fully capable of determining of how the receiver of that communication will understand what we are saying. Once our words leave our mouths or our expressions leave our bodies we loose all control of how they will be perceieved.
We all probably have faced the issue of a person misinterpreting what we say. These issue arise in social networks and text messages. When we can not put emphasis or expression behind the words we speak, the chance of misunderstanding increases.
If we understand and accept that we have control over what we speak and no control over the interpretation of our words, then we should try to be better understood online and in person.
So what do you think?
- In our minds only. (We have no control over what we think and what words and gestures we produce, but we have control over how those expressions are understood.)
- In our expressions only. (verbal and non-verbal) (We have control over what we think, but no control over how those ideas are understood.)
- In our minds and expressions. (We have no control over what we say or how those expressions are understood.)
- Language and expressions are not a virus. (We have complete control over what we think and how those expressions are understood.)
Miscellaneous Other Questions
Is language a virus in our minds when we receive someone else’s’ language transmission? Do we have a choice over how we interpret those expressions? Or are we bounded by our previous encounters with the same transmission?
What about micro expressions do we have control over those? Do they even exist?
What happens if the definiton of a virus is not reliable?
Can we manipulate the words we speak, so that the receiver interprets what we say in a specific way?
1. ”Language – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus – Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/language>.
2. Parikka, Jussi. “Fear and Security: From Bugs to Worms.” Digital Contagions: a MediaArchaeology of Computer Viruses. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. 38. Print.