In the future, we all speak a second language not of our choosing.
It is assigned at birth and selected at random from the history of language, to be learnt and used alongside the mother tongue.
All nations or organised societies have agreed upon a lottery system and the pool of possible draws consists of every single language that has ever existed -- dead or living, dialects too -- and the pool keeps growing.
Hyperobjects / Networks / Mesh
Time / Calendar / Seasons / History
Passages / Paths
Food / Drink
Knowledge / Myths / Stories / Songs
Beliefs / Customs / Rituals
Taste / Quality
Organization / Community / Government
System / Rules / Consequences
Object / Vessel / Tool
What counts as a language?
How would you learn a language that your family doesn’t know?
How much do you need to know in order to know a language? What does it mean to know a language completely?
What would happen if you forgot your first or second language?
How would you learn and use your second language on a day-to-day basis?
How would you learn and use your second language if it was dead?
How would you learn and use a second language that was only oral?
To recover dead languages, would we have other Rosetta stones? What form would they take? Would they be material indexes or memories?
Do new uses of language develop - like coding or pure maths? Do new forms of inclusion and exclusion develop from these new literacies?
How do languages enter the lottery pool - what is the baseline for defining a language or dialect?
Are some languages preferred over others?
Would languages evolve quicker or slower based on this system?
Would the pool of languages diversify or simplify based on this system?
Would empathy change based on language-use?
Is one sense centred over the others?
Do cultures become more visual? More aural? More oral?
What is lost?
Would the notion of family and community change based on the second languages?
If we were to learn languages of more-than-human beings, hyperobjects, the language of trees, pheromones, or quantum code-based languages - would we still identify as human?
How would the notion/category/structures of national identity change?
Are nations / organised societies defined by official language - singular or plural?
What types of mobility emerge? Devolve?
How many and which languages do they use on ‘international’ flights and at borders?
Will we have borders?
Does that which we understand as knowledge change?
What is the relationship between language and comprehension in the future? What is the nature of understanding - does it rely on increasing our vocabularies, or rather capacity to read between the lines?
The origins of written language were for use in accounting and divination; what could future uses be beyond what we currently know as transactional and mortal?
What precipitated this global decree?
What sort of political/economic/environmental situation could have prompted this?
How would time and labour be structured in order for everyone to prioritize learning the second language?
What would the economy be based upon? Are there new notions of ‘resource’ and ‘labour’ and ‘progress’?
Would new forms of power emerge, based on new forms of value?
How much would all of this cost?
What technologies make language learning easier? More complex?
How does it change our behaviour?
What platforms allow persons to gather in their shared first or second language? Do these meetings happen in real time or another dimension of time?
What mediates the use of language in virtual or IRL space - the interface; the technology? Is it human, artificial intelligence, or something else?
What data does this system generate, and where is the data stored, how is it used?
Is there an excess that cannot be identified and captured?
Historically, the collection and cataloguing of dialect field recordings came from a desire for preservation - is there a different sense of historicity motivating data/knowledge gathering?
Will we distinguish between data and knowledge?
Will we have different notions of ability?
Cursive script was developed to allow for faster writing; printing changed the temporality of writing; attention spans have gotten shorter: what is the speed of language be in the future? Could second language acquisition slow everything down?
What would this mean for our bodies?
Will there be a change in an assumed hierarchy of language use: written versus oral? Could this change our concept of ‘civilization’? Would it allow for ‘civilization’ to be re-defined, challenged, de-centred? Would this change our relationship to objecthood, decay and permanence?
Will memory change? Our capacity for memory?
Would we decide to break language instead? To miscommunicate, to misunderstand, to make no sense, to twist, to be imprecise?
What is a ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ language?
Is there a correlation between statistics and authenticity when it comes to dialect or accent? Will we live by a different centre and margin?
How would we share or claim cultural heritage through second language; would it be at risk of appropriation? Who is responsible for a ‘shared’ past? Who is entitled to nostalgia?
If you are isolated by learning a dead language, would you develop a different conception of public and private space; internal and external experience?
Elaine Ho 何穎雅
Participants of Syllabus IV
The Voice of Domestic Workers
Second Tongues at Cubitt
curated by Louise Shelley
as part of Structures that Cooperate
Photography by Mark Blower, courtesy of Cubitt Artists.
Self does not understand
Screening and Performance Programme
curated by Erik Martinson in response to Second Tongues
July 2019, Cubitt Gallery
Taking Serena Lee’s Second Tongues proposition, Canadian curator Erik Martinson has programmed an evening of film and readings.
Self does not understand derives its title from a phrase spoken by the character Warlock in the 1980’s comic The New Mutants. Warlock is an alien with the power to meta-morph into any shape or form, though he has a difficult time understanding our world, needing to constantly learn about how humans communicate with each other. He identifies as ‘Self’ and his teammates are his ‘Self-friends’. One teammate in particular called Doug Ramsey, codenamed Cypher, has the mutant power to innately learn and understand languages rapidly, whether they are human, machinic, or alien in nature. These two characters’ lives are intertwined, from first encounter of communicating through patterned light, in the vein of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to a complicated mutually symbiotic relationship. Through tragedy Warlock must come to terms with death, something his kind experiences and understands in some fundamentally different ways, prompting this programme’s title.
Self does not understand considers tiny translations between: ‘self’ and ‘self’, ‘self’ and ‘other self’, ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘other’ and ‘other’, and various permutations or these arbitrary structures. When fluency and comprehension are closely examined, the solid ground they present is quickly revealed as ongoing, fragile calculations. Like a decimal place rounded-up, they are an approximation, even within the same language set. Fluency and comprehension are made up of so many encounters, of so many oscillations between understanding and not, until one seems to win out.
The event features a selection of readings and artists’ moving image. Artists presented include: Stephanie Comilang, Jessa Mockridge, Lana Lin, Shanzhai Lyric, Anastasia Sosunova, with a guest appearance by Vrillon.
Three-channel Video Installation with Audio and Augmented Reality
Technical Production: Black Shuck
Salt dough works produced with The Voice of Domestic Workers
and by Ethan Keating, Penny Burkett, Louise Shelley
Technician: Lucy Woodhouse
With video images and audio contributions by Second Tongues participants
Scenography by Clemence Seilles
Contributed by Daria Blum
Contributed by Minami Kanesawa