Project website at http://unspeakableness.net/
Unspeakableness is a project that investigates human emotions and languages. By re-looking at how humans communicate, it searches for a way to connect our inner self and personal emotions, through the design of a personal language and several new ways of communication. It is is an investigation of how language can be improvised to connect our emotions in this multilingual world.
The focus of the project is human being, and the artefacts created through the most basic human needs - language. The direction of the project has been changed from the interaction between people to interaction within one’s self. It is a process for me and the participants to re-define the languages we are using today, to take control ourselves instead of being controlled by the structure of languages.
Part 1 - The Untranslatable Words
Seeing How Emotions Interact Through Languages
This is the early stage research of the project. In late January, 2012, I emailed around Royal College of Art asking for words describing emotions in languages other than English that are untranslatable into English. Interesting enough, in order to understand the untranslatable words I had to have several correspondence with the person who contributed the word, and through this back-and-forth discussion can I actually get the glimpse of the emotion itself. These explanation of the untranslatable words are often in the format of "it is a kind of (emotion A), close to (emotion B), and somehow between (emotion C) and (emotion D)." This triggers me to map out the emotions based on the classification of emotions provided in Shaver et al. - "Emotion Knowledge - Futher Exploration of a Prototype Approach." in the book Emotions in Social Psychology by W. Parrott (2001). Which I intended to visualised the untranslatable words as chemical molecules that reacts with the emotion "nodes" to the fact that untranslatable words are often complicated emotions that are the mixture of other translatable emotions.
Part 2 - Emotion Archive
A Digital Observation for Sapir - Whorf Hypothesis
This is the extension of the untranslatable words visualisation. In order to take the visualisation further, I started to work closely with a native Russian speaker and three native German to translate the whole list of emotions, to see if they can be translated properly, or are there unique words in Chinese, Russian, or German that depicts the emotions into more precision, to come up with this "grand detail" of human emotions. It then develops into an interactive emotion archive where you can compare different emotionscape in different langauges, as well as understanding the emotions directly from facial expression, tonality, and body movements.
Part 3 - Trans-Language Communication
Recreating the Tower of Babel
The participants where ask to speak a language other participants don't understand to discuss a 2 minutes film with the help of my simple emotion classification graph. They are allowed to write, but only in the languages others don't understand.
Part 4 - Personalised Language
Inventing New Languages for New Global Village
A multilingual might think why can't I talk in the way I want? Why do I always have to use the language others understand while sacrificing using a much more beautiful word in another language? Language is one of the major elements that represent our identity, why do I need to selectively avoid using the words I love and be restrained in one language? Why not use the languages more freely? To design our own aesthetically appealing language which represents our personality without being a poet, just like we dress ourselves without being a fashion designer? This project is intended to discover the new use of language - to create personalised languages for the multilingual people that would hold the maximum ability of expression emotions.
Creating languages is never easy. This project is inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's constructed languages for his Middle-earth beings and Klingon, where the languages were created by taken phonetic aesthetic into consideration. The purpose of Esperanto also influence the core idea of the project - to make the world more flat through language. This project is trying to facilitate the mixture of languages on an individual level to bridge the separate parts of self by designing an algorithm (or a process, in a less computational way) that would allows any person who are multilingual to be able to design their own language through their own attachment of each word in different languages and cultural context. And hopefully through the process of using and mixing the languages to find an emotionally unified person.