Why and How I want to Measure Language Knowledge Pool Value or LKPV


What is Language Knowledge Pool: The knowledge in a language and a term I just made up that perhaps someone already made up.

Why should we measure it and How can we measure it:

Every language has a lot of knowledge. Every English book Mark Twain wrote is knowledge in the English language. Everybody who knows a language has access to that knowledge and access to what that knowledge can bring (theoretically speaking; practically there still are obstacles). Others don’t have access to that knowledge and vice versa.

I am considering everything from the Mahabharatha, Old & New Testament, Illiad, Quran, Aristotle, Aryabhatta, Newton, Shakespeare, Vinci, Fibonacci, to He’s Not That Into You, both book and film, all the music and movies in the world, every newspaper article, every advertising billboard, tweets, to a conversation a father has with a kid. You could call this information, but knowledge is more interesting, because that is what we are ultimately getting at.

Amount of knowledge is constantly growing.

Language is a knowledge creating device, or at least a major enabler. And I believe that knowledge is a human enabler, aids all kinds of growth (economic, cultural) and human welfare. Ultimately having the opportunity to make more people more happy.

Growth of knowledge has a cascading effect, it is very exponential in nature. A PhD paper in a university gets reported in a journal, gets a small circle of academicians inspired to apply those ideas, who write other things and make other things, and influence another rung to write everything from pulp fiction to television shows to tabloids to film and comedy shows and a million blog posts about it, all of which can impact the birth of many new businesses that create jobs that put food on table, or trigger conversations at subway stations or bars, or at dinner tables, or a 1 hour session with a therapist, all these conversations made someone think something new, deal with their problems and relationships, brought a smile to someone, or made them realize the mistakes they were making.

Imagine arriving at a number that suggests a language’s knowledge pool value (LKPV) at a given time.

My hypothesis is that:

at a given time, for a unit number of people, a language with a higher LKPV has the opportunity to make the unit number of people more happy than a language with a lower LKPV. (yes, happiness has different meanings for different people, but this happy is an average, or maybe a least common denominator of all the different kinds of happy in the world just for some mathematical simplicity)

Primary (and secondary) Parameters Influencing LKPV:

Some languages create knowledge faster. Others are slower. This mostly has little to do with the language itself, and just to do with the number of people using it.

Certainly rate of knowledge growth would be one parameter in deciding LKPV. Rate of growth would be measured by the number of stuff that gets out per unit of time. If there are more books and movies being created in English in 2009 than Spanish, then English gets more points. Recency of creation will also be a parameter that can amplify the LKPV.

If one language is a raging waterfall suitable for grade 5 rafting, while languages like Sanskrit and Greek run deep. Their knowledge history runs thousands of years back. And these languages get points for their depth, but Sanskrit loses points because of a low rate of knowledge creation, (not many 24×7 Sanskrit news channels are they?). Those people back then put a lot of time and thought into their work that is really of high quality and maturity. When I watch The Dark Knight I can recognize it is a reduced and trickle down version of the Geetopadesham (from Mahabharatha) and I know it is also a trickle down version of some western mythologies.

Basically, if we had better access to these deep languages we could move on to the better ideas that they trigger faster and wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel on many things we don’t realize have already been thought of. For instance, if I had already read a document about the ideas I talk about in this post, I could have moved on to the ideas those would have triggered (I forced myself not to google these ideas I was having to be in a controlled environment).

So depth is another parameter that factors the LKPV.

Of course, language knowledge pools aren’t completely isolated pools. They are connected with canals of translation. Over the centuries, the idea of democracy, having originated in Greek (am not googling this, I think I might be pretty right) passed through translations into other languages, and thus other lands and peoples. Now I’m taking a calculated guess that English has the largest knowledge pool and French has a pool slightly smaller. If a lot of English is translated into, say Marathi, then Marathi gets points for that incoming wisdom (even if it is a translation of movie you thought was stupid, there will be space for some qualitative points too, we’ll need to figure that out). Marathi translated to English will also give English some points, but it might be less because it is coming from a smaller pool (many other variables, like differentiation of knowledge, that I will talk about later, also factor in whether it will be more or less).

The speed, amount, width of translation to a language will greatly influence the ‘interflow of knowledge’ points a language gets. We will also find clusters of well connected language pools. If one cluster is poorly connected with another cluster then the good ideas from that might take between few years to centuries to travel into the other cluster: ideas like democracy, liberty, tolerance, or how to install mysql on your system without ripping your hair out. And in this time we risk people unable to realize their potential, or make enough for their family, or perhaps there are generations lost in the chase of materialistic pleasures who could have been saved by the idea of moderation – all this negativity and discontent could lead to several violent riots and wars.

Differentiation is also a major parameter. The knowledge in all languages is not the same (the main reason why all this interflow is important). Tamil might have very unique knowledge about some kind of music and architecture, same might be the case for Mandarin, or Japanese, etc. There must be some knowledge in the Telugu pool about paddy farming that many other languages might not have. English might have a lot of knowledge about how to do some stem cell transplant procedure and German might have very unique knowledge on how to make cars run fast and Gujarati (I bet) has some unique knowledge on how to make amazing dhoklas. (okay am being a bit stereotypical about some languages, but if I knew more languages and drew more knowledge from them then I wouldn’t be so.)

So differentiation gets points.

Take all these primary and secondary parameters and you will finally have an LKPV figure for every language.

These different numbers should be on the dashboards of all kinds of leaders of the world. With these they will surely have an idea on the economic and cultural situation of people of these languages and can make projections and plan policies.

I think translation is very important. Not one language for the whole world, but translation. Imposing a single language for a whole lot of people creates a lot of social unrest that is counter productive to the purpose of connecting the world. While finding faster, scalable, and accurate ways to translate challenges our human skills and occupies us during our time here constructively (really, the best we can ask from our life time).

Talking about some of the social issues that challenge the world, we really won’t solve AIDS, poverty in the world, saving the environment, or even the digital divide, if we don’t spend our energy on nailing faster, scalable, accurate methods of translation.

Of course, in the long term, when languages become more connected, the water in all the pools will start to taste and feel the same, the same ideas everywhere, we could become unhealthily homogenous, we could lose our diversity that makes us beautiful, all that could get us all jaded, there could be nothing new to discover, and that might be the last day of humanity. That reminds me of the last time we were not divided by language. But it did not go down too well because we angered the higher authority. Remember? And the higher authority came down upon us with great vengeance because they realized if we all understood each other, nothing would be restrained from us that we as people of the world imagine to do (and I know this thanks to translations)

Genesis 11:1-9 (King James Version): (from wikipedia)
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

[Image: The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563) from wikimedia]

Update: septemmber 23rd 2009

some important links regards Indian languages and translation







6 thoughts on “Why and How I want to Measure Language Knowledge Pool Value or LKPV

  1. great blog Sri..my thoughts – Sanskrit or Latin might be deep and have more of a knowledge reserve while English is pervasive in this era – in general that would make languages that are in wider use at any time collect more of a LKPV while “unused” languages might end up with a stale LKPV.

  2. Very good idea. On many an occasion, lack of knowledge in other languages act as a hurdle for onward journey towards development.

  3. @Krish: That is true. I think it is pretty obvious that English is the key access channel to modern economy. The key here are the other parameters. I imagine the chief minister of Orissa monitoring the rate of inflow (translation rate) of content from English to Oriya because that will decide how much opportunity Oriya speakers and readers can have in the world economy.

  4. @Venkitachalam, you are awesome for getting as familiar and expert as you are in at least 3 languages after school.

  5. a novel though indeed..possibly LKPV could be linked to EQ and IQ which we keep hearing more often.

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