Wednesday, 4 December 2013

5 Linguistically Valuable Uses For Drones

Amazon fired imaginations across the world this week when it announced that it was planning to deliver books by automated drone. We feel, however, that the drone's potential is wasted on the simple task of delivery. Here are some ways in which drones could be gainfully employed to advance the discipline of linguistics.

1. Anti-Observer's-Paradox Drone

One of the classic problems in variationist sociolinguistics is that the presence of a researcher during an interview can lead people to speak in a very different way; sociolinguists have been agonizing over this issue for years. Enter the humble drone! This one is equipped with top-of-the-range recording devices for all your interviewing needs, and while your participants waffle on happily it will hover in the background in a manner that is not at all sinister or intimidating. And while it does all the work, you can put your feet up or enjoy a nice mug of hot chocolate.

2. Language Revitalization Drone

More than half of the world's languages are under threat of extinction in the next 50-100 years. That's more than reason enough to deploy advanced technology to solve the problem. The Revitalization Drone seeks out threatened speech communities and makes tactical delivery drops of dictionaries and reference grammars. It also narrates oral folk tales through its inbuilt subwoofers in order to inspire speakers about their linguistic heritage. So when you're reading the paper or shopping for clothes, you can be sure that this busy little bee is continuing to fight the good fight.

3. Undergraduate Lecture Drone

We've all known for some time now that Linguistics 101 could be taught by a trained monkey. This drone is the next best thing! Let your automated friend outline the controversies about prescriptivism and domain-specific knowledge for you, while you relax in the bath or play a game of squash. Just like a real linguistics lecturer, this drone will drone on in a monotone and is programmed not to engage with the audience under any circumstances. It won't fill in attendance records, though, as it considers this task to be beneath its dignity.

4. Historical Reconstruction Drone

The limitations of the comparative method mean that we can only have confidence in our linguistic reconstructions up to about 10,000 years ago, right? Wrong! With its inbuilt tachyon drive, this neat little device can travel back in time at a rate of almost 9,000 hours per hour. Once there, it will locate related languages and do fieldwork on them in order to carry out comparative reconstruction. Proto-World, here we come! (NB: In the interests of self-defence, the drone will attack Daleks, proponents of mass lexical comparison, and Cybermen on sight.) In the meantime, you can be playing Guitar Hero or writing a book about golf.

5. Isogloss Enforcement Drone

Isoglosses are the neat lines on a map that divide dialects from one another according to their linguistic features. Unfortunately it's long been known that isoglosses are an inadequate representation of dialect reality, since outliers can usually be found on both sides of the line. With the Isogloss Enforcement Drone, we can finally do something about this lamentable situation! Equipped with an SMG and mini grenade launcher, this drone will patrol up and down the isogloss, punishing dialect offenders and occasionally launching seek-and-destroy missions for outlying deviant speakers. All while you bake a cake or watch a DVD of Downton Abbey.

Image source credits: (Clément Bucco-Lechat),ńsk_talking_business.JPG (Artur Andrzej), (Arienh4), (Gregory J Kingsley),,, (Arto Teräs),, (Slomox), (Jsobral),,łtów_Park_Jurajski_002.jpg (Jakub Hałun)

1 comment:

  1. You should know that there are drones that are called multirotors, but most people still call them drones because it’s easier to say.