Linguistic Capitalism in the Digital Era: Algorithm, Marketplace, Speed

Author: Sung-Do Kim (Korea University, South Korea)
Speaker: Sung-Do Kim
Topic: Ethnographical Language Work
COMELA 2021 General Session


The aim of this work consists in seizing some salient features of the linguistic capitalism in the digital era, focusing on the dimensions of linguistic algorithms, speed and marketplace. In print capitalism, words made economic exchanges and commercial sales in the form of books and newspapers. In the digital information and communication revolution, accelerated linguistic capitalism sets out an essential difference in comparison to traditional print capitalism. In the linguistic capitalism, the basic product is not a word, but a space based on software between words.

First, I will attempt to reconstruct the geneaological, epistemological and anthropological foundations on the theories of the languages limits of computation and algorithmic or cybernetic capitalism in insisting the global industralization of these computational and formal theories which effaced the reference and the fleshy meaning from the syntax. In the digital language spaces dominated by algorithmic capitalism as an aspect of informationalism, signs are detached from their narrative function and temporal dimension as a means of human communication they perform in refering only to other signs.

In the second section, I will attempt to discern some semiotic aspects of data-isation and monetisation of digital language. Words that circulate through digital spaces, through key words, e-mail, search engine maximization techniques, or news dissemination, are increasingly accompanied by economic value. In this regard, Kaplan’s seminal work might be mentioned : he explained that the keystone of Google’s success depends on three alogorithms, PageRank, Adword and auto-completion.

In the third section, this work explores the question of speed and velocity which define a new linguistic capitalism. In fact, “fast language” is a key element in the marketplace of digital language both as content and a as technology. The discourse of speed is discussed with reference to the dromology of Virilio. In other words, in the connection method between the Internet and the language, it is in particular about the problem of speed. With the advent of the Internet, we are living in a hyperconnected world. More specifically, words, images, data and images now travel at the speed of light through a global network

Kaplan, Frederic, “Linguistic Capitalism and Algorithmic Mediations.” Representations 127, 2014.
Sack, Warren, “Out of Bounds: Language, limits, language planning, and the definition of distance in the new spaces of linguistic capitalism”, Computational culture 6, 2017.
Virilio, Paul, Speed and Politics : An Essay on Dromology, New York, Semiotext(e), 1977.

Keywords:linguistic capitalism, velocity, cybernetics