The Language Machine (1987)

   •Roy Harris

Hardcover: 182 pages
Publisher: Duckworth, London, 1987.
ISBN: 0801421055

This volume completes the trilogy which began with The Language-Makers (1980) and The Language Myth (1981). The Language Machine examines the impact of the electronic computer on modern conceptions of language and communication. When Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels the notion that a machine could handle language was an absurdity to be satirized. Descartes regarded it as foolish to suppose that a robot could ever be built that would answer questions. But today it is widely assumed that mechanical speech recognition and automatic translation will be commonplace in tomorrow’s technology. Underlying these assumptions is a subtle shift in popular and academic conceptions of what a language is. Understanding a sentence is treated as a computational process. This in turn contributes powerfully to accepting a mechanistic view of human intelligence, and to the insulation of language from moral values.

– ‘at his best he is highly readable, in a satirical vein worthy of an admirer of Swift’: Saul Levin in General Linguistics

– ‘as usual with Harris there are some marvelously succinct characterizations and aperçus’: Michael Toolan in Language in Society

It was the author's wish that The Language Machine be available for purchase. However, since his death the remaining copies have been handed over to his Literary Executor Stephen Farrow as part of his Literary Estate. Unfortunately Dr Farrow has refused to honour book purchases made through this website.

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© Roy Harris, Emeritus Professor of General Linguistics, Oxford, 2010-2015