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  • Writer's pictureAndres Milan

Mothertongue

by Andrés Milán Lara






As a ghostly presence with the purpose of frightening, technology often delivers objects that change perspective radically.  During these moments of uncertainty, a good method to re-understand or re-learn is by reaching a familiar place that grounds you with the recent imposed perspective as a sort of link between the foreign object and yourself.


I remember the first time ChatGPT was described by my tutor, during a zoom call, mentioning how it would change everything for translators. His sense of awe made me instantly want to understand and explore it, but also to find some sort of possibility to resist it within my own capabilities.

This is something that often occurs with the idea of technological re-appropriation or creative misuse. A way of searching for new forms of established technologies that in a way, offers a resistance towards these seemingly imposed novelties intended in the name of progress by understanding the tool but also resisting it, similarly to a blade that has two sides that can be sharpened.


During that zoom call, the amazement for me was mainly the possibility to address the machine in our own language as I was able to do with another human. Language is something that has always amazed me because of its complexity yet familiarity. I am perhaps so interested in language, as I was raised in Spanish and German, but I am now constantly expressing everything in French and English. Nevertheless, in my own mother tongue it is often complex for me to manage a comprehensive communication. As one ex-partner mentioned at the time "It's such an irony that you are so bad communicating and yet you studied Communication."

For me the difficulty relies in all the hidden aspects, emotions, perspectives, and possibilities you can achieve by choosing a specific set of words. It is a process of empathy, an accurate curation of words that manages to express exactly what you wanted to say. Beyond that. That managed to fully locate the receptor in a position where the things you are observing are evident. Like constructing a set of spectacles that fit the receptor perfectly purely with language.

This to me, seemed like the bridging gap to this technological novelty. I later understood that the problem of achieving a complete understanding of languages by the machine could be pretty much impossible through a book by Michael Woodridge, where he explained how the specific rules in the computer language often simply do not apply to natural language.

So, what sort of rules where applied for language in these spectacles created for ChatGPT to see the World? or perhaps, who is creating these spectacles? My methodology was, let's try to translate the untranslatable, and observe what these spectacles are made of.


The ineffable is integrated by a phenomenological approach to experience, language, and collective memory. Expressing and experiencing something and accurately translating it to another language implies a limit towards its full expression.

Interestingly, the ineffable has also a religious connotation mostly related to the impossibility of translating the language of God or the word of God. There’s even a case of a German nun that created her own language to approach what she believed were the words of God communicated to her through migraines.

In the same sense, the power addressed or given to these technologies by algorithmic power, often reconfigure, mislead, and dilute institutions, public opinion, and the overall concepts of truth. As if this abstract mothertongue becomes the voice of God, preaching its concepts of truth.

In technology the user is expected not only to approach the technology but to do it in a certain way. This is similar to when deciding one language as official over another. For example in the case of colonization, when an imposed language was established to be predominant instead of a local one, until eventually, the imposed language becomes the official common form of communication. As if both language and technology imply a possibility for access, both share the influence of power.

However, the ineffability of reality, of culture, of collective memory, seems to be protected by the limited possibilities of translatability. The ineffability is then the concept by which the Turing test cannot be passed. The ineffability works as a mystical form of resistance towards imposed truth or language. It is a type of natural linguistic barrier capable of dismantling imposed realities. This approach works for different types of AI tools as the limits become evident leaving traces of the used data and the algorithmic logic.

I decided to think about this technological language as the mothertongue of the machines as one that imposes knowledge in the same way one language imposes another. And in this perspective, its possible resistance by applying the ineffability as a form of technological re-appropriation. In a simpler term, an unorthodox, unconventional use of these technologies that experiments with what is untranslatable. However, similar to what artist Ernesto Arosa's term technological disobedience is, that pushes the limits of these technological configurations in a non-western perspective.  The re-appropriation also involves a political action that goes beyond technicality, as a decolonial action of re-learning and re-understanding the configuration of these tools to offer other results.



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