The end of the word as we know it

Last year I had the odd experience of reading (and reviewing) two new books that came out at almost exactly the same time and that were, despite being speculative fantasies, remarkably similar: Peter Norman’s Emberton and Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange. Both books have heroes who work for dictionary publishers, which means they’re manning the bastions against the coming digital apocalypse of cyber-barbarism. The citadel, however, is crumbling both from without and within. Literature and culture are disintegrating, along with language itself. The  heroine in The Word Exchange is sure of the crisis we face:

As more and more of our actions are mediated by machines . . . there’s no telling what will happen, not only to language but in some sense to civilization. The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.

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