January 19, 2004

gloof, spooce, gloof twain, spooce, gairk

ShortTalk, invented by Nils Klarlund (formerly of AT&T and the University of Aarhus), is the jaw-dropping-est thing I've seen so far this year. It's "a new method for composing text by speech," designed to be "fluently interspersed with dictation," by "[codifying] natural and universal editing concepts that can be combined in command phrases, typically consisting of only two syllables." For example, speece truo "applies the no-space operator to the three identifiers preceding the cursor", and skoop cam "skips backwards until before the first comma."

Here's a more elaborate example, taken from Nils' page of audio demos:


z = x+y|


z = x + y|

ShortTalk solution (2.4s)

gloof, spooce, gloof twain, spooce, gairk


" gloof" means "press the left arrow" and "spooce" means "press the spacebar". The modifier "twain" means do it twice.

The demo page doesn't gloss gairk, but according to the ShortTalk Quick Reference it means "unravel" (with an optional positive integer, meaning "go to the nth last mark"), so I think it puts the cursor back where it started.

Since ShortTalk has been around for a couple of years without making it to Slashdot or Metafilter, we can safely predict that it is not a strongly infectious meme. However, I feel that there is an opportunity here for a science fiction writer. Text editing is a bit tame as an application, but analogous concepts could be applied in any task where limbs and eyes are occupied, users are highly trained, and rapid interaction is at a premium. So I look forward to reading about warriors of the future shouting things like "go ooft strange, clam ane, push lairk!" as they stride into battle. Or perhaps it'll be cyber-knitters, chanting some elaborated version of "knit one, purl two" as they create mythic tapestries or heal rifts in the fabric of space-time. In any variation, ShortTalkish has a nice sort of incantatory quality to it, and you could add chanted melodies in order to increase the information rate beyond the average 16 bits per second that Nils Klarlund says he can achieve, thus creating a more complete approximation to traditional stereotypes of spell casting.

Let's hope that Nils' invention doesn't have to wait more than three centuries to be picked up by a novelist, as John Wilkins' Philosophical Language did.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 19, 2004 10:37 AM