or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, December 18, 2006


As reported on BoingBoing, here's a very interesting blog entry about Morse Code and its theoretical obsolescence:

For all appearances, Morse Code is the dead language of the digital age (it was in fact the first digital language) done in by computers, satellites and the Internet.

There are various other sentences sort of like that: I won't quote them all (because you can read the article yourself). What bothers me is that Morse is continually referred to as a "language".

Now, I suppose that in the most rigorous possible definition of "language", you could probably argue that it is, if you were ornery enough: Answer.com's definition of "language" starts with "Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols", and while Morse isn't any of those things, it does seem to fall into the same general category (if we substitute "a batch of clicks" for "voice sounds").

However. Morse Code sent in English isn't a language separate from English: it uses English words, spelling, and grammar. It just encodes the letters of each individual word in a binary (two-symbol) format. (Technically, therefore, it's not a code: it's a cipher, because codes indicate words or phrases while ciphers work on the level of the individual letters of words. This distinction is usually made only by specialists: to the layman, they're all just codes.)

If you want to argue that Morse code is a language, then so are semaphore, that diagrammatic cipher that schoolchildren use, and even ROT13.


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