What does it mean to be fluent in a language?
For people learning second languages often their goal is “fluency.” (That’s why on Mandla we ask you what purpose your language learning is for , whether Travel, Work , Family, etc. so we can tailor our lessons) Well what is fluency? There are many conflicting thoughts, but one I find particularly interesting is the idea that fluency in a language is unattainable by humans.
For the sake of simplicity let us restrict the domain to written language, but a similar definition can also be constructed for spoken language.
A language L is a set that consists of strings whose characters are taken from a set and are “well formed” according to a set of rules. There’s a lot more to that but we would need to dive in to Formal Language and Automata Theory so let’s not do that right now.
Let us assume fluency is quantifiable. We could plot fluency as a function of a learner’s understanding of the words and their knowledge of the language’s words. Let us assume “fully fluent” means reaching the absolute maximum of this function. Let “LL” be “language learner.”
For every language that grows in words over time, LL can be said to have reached full fluency if and only if there exists a point A where the following conditions are true:
LL knows every word within the language’s set of words
LL has full understanding of a language’s grammar
Both of these are impossible for any spoken human language for a number of reasons.
From this we can conclude full fluency is unattainable.
What exists in practice is domain specific fluency because the grammar and vocabulary shift from environment to environment.
I think the ability to write songs in a language should be the ultimate measure of fluency.
Human communication is imperfect, and in most social contexts what we’re really trying to do is express emotions. One characteristic of great songs is the ability to evoke specific emotion almost universally, and a large part of that is lyrics. Language after all is also an art!
One of the reasons we like people of similar backgrounds is the assumption of an ability to easily communicate due to shared experiences.
When your communication is already so honest and clear, the words become more so a display of one’s own wit, and I think that essence is captured precisely in the essence of songwriting. Say it without saying it. Abstract out an individual experience to a universal emotion. That’s so beautiful to me.
COMPUTERS can get much closer to full fluency because computers are better at retaining vocabulary.
I think that after The Merge, humanity will actually have more linguistic diversity not less.