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Communications of the ACM

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The Power of Babble


The Power of Babble, illustration

Credit: Anton Watman

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Metadata defines the shape, the form, and how to understand our data. It is following the trend taken by natural languages in our increasingly interconnected world. While many concepts can be communicated using shared metadata, no one can keep up with the number of disparate new concepts needed to have a common understanding.

English is the lingua franca of the world, yet there are many facets of humanity and the concepts held by different people that simply cannot be captured in English no matter how pervasive the language. In fact, English itself has nooks, crannies, dialects, meetups, and teenager slang that innovate and extend its permutations with usages that usually do not converge. My personal idiolect shifts depending on whether I am speaking to a computer science audience, my team at work with its contextual usages, my wife, my grandkids, or the waiter at a local restaurant. Different communities of people extend English in different ways.


 

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