Hybrid Humans

SINGAPORE – The election of a new pope always sparks debate about the tension between tradition and modernity in the Catholic Church. Perhaps more interesting is the ongoing modernization of the language in which those debates are conducted: Latin.

While Catholic doctrines have evolved slowly, the Latin vocabulary has been expanding steadily in recent years, reflecting the surge of neologisms (new words, usages, and expressions) that has accompanied technology’s increasingly prominent role in people’s daily lives. The addition of terms like telephonium albo televisifico coniunctum (video telepresence) and usus agonisticus medicamenti stupecfactivi (performance-enhancing drugs) has helped to spark a revival of Latin education in the West, despite growing competition from Mandarin.

Likewise, the English language’s ability to produce and absorb neologisms is an important reason why it will endure as the world’s lingua franca. The Oxford English Dictionary, now updated quarterly, revised more than 1,900 entries in its March 2011 edition, and added new terms, such as “subdomain,” “dataveillance,” and “geotagging.”

Humans use language to make sense not only of specific concepts, but also of larger scientific, social, and historical movements. With technology changing the face – and pace – of such movements, devising terms that capture its far-reaching impact on human life is becoming increasingly important.