06 April 2012

Privatising the English Language (news item from the future)

The precedents that cleared the way for the patenting and copyright of the words of the English language were those established originally for patenting microorganisms and deciphered DNA sequences. In the earlier cases, naturally occurring biological information structures were deemed to be intellectual property. Words in a language are also information structures, perhaps part of nature, perhaps not, but also not fabricated by particular human beings. The courts were able to define words in a language as intellectual properties, and protectable sources of revenue. Once this was established, the governments of the most powerful English-speaking countries negotiated an agreement whereby the English lexicon was regarded as intellectual property held in common by all English speakers, with the governments administering the rights of this property. They formed a consortium in which each country held a percentage of the rights for the entire lexicon. Privatization immediately followed, and the rights to each word were auctioned off to private bidders, who were subsequently able to collect royalties for each published instance of any word in their portfolio. A new unit of currency, the microEuro, was established, to permit individually small but collectively enormous royalties to be collected from authors of books, articles, web pages, blogs, emails and tweets. Anyone using a copyrighted word in written,  printed or screen form was forced to pay royalties, on a monthly basis.

As surveillance cameras became more ubiquitous and facial recognition quicker and more accurate, it soon became possible to collect royalties on spoken words as well. People found themselves being billed for hundreds of euros of royalties each year, which added together formed a revenue stream of over a trillion euros annually. People reacted against paying royalties in various ways. Some affected an opaque argot, which had to change continually as words in the argot were identified and auctioned off. Others adopted different languages, which, one by one, became intellectual property as other countries formed their own consortia. Even Esperanto became intellectual property, the royalties being divided between the family of Zemenhof, who constructed the language in 1878, and the consortia for the various languages from which Esperanto derived its vocabulary.

An open source language project was launched to develop a royalty-free language, with an aleatorically generated vocabulary, checked against every protected lexicon to insure there were no infringement of protected words. This open source project became the target of incessant legal attacks that effectively diverted all of the participants’ energies and all of its funding into defending it, and ultimately it collapsed.

Speech and writing in general became laconic or terse, and expressions such as “you know what I’m saying?” mostly disappeared. Gestures-- a nod or shake of the head, shrugging of shoulders, or pointing of fingers--  were used more often until they, too, were defined as intellectual property.

Garrulous people who were unable to pay their royalties became debt slaves with speech centers endoscopically excised.  Direct stimulation of debt slaves’ brains enabled their owners to use them for various repetitive tasks in industry as well as services such as cleaning and elder care. The US and Europe were able to challenge the Chinese economy for the first time in decades.

Prophets of evolution predicted the emergence of telepathy. In anticipation of this, linguistic patent/copyright trolls began funding research into defining, detecting and protecting elements of what Steven Pinker called “mentalese,” a  universal, sub-verbal, deep-structural  kind of thought language. This tendency was condemned by both Pinker and the aging but ever-vigorous Noam Chomsky as an outrageous assault  against the very core of humanity.

This text, including this disclosure, pays a royalty of 18,437 microEuros.


  1. You refer to Esperanto

    I am glad that Esperanto is gaining more attention.

    Can I also refer you to http://www.lernu.net ?

  2. hello! that is brilliantly funny. it made me think of words that have fallen from usage, endangered words
    would they be worth a pirates bounty?