Some critical reflections on the linguistic capitalism in the digital era: semiotics, dromology, genealogy

Author: Kim Sung-Do (Korea University)
Speaker: Kim Sung-Do
Topic: Nonverbal semiotics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This paper examines some salient features of the linguistic capitalism in the digital era, focusing on the dimensions of space, speed and marketplace.
First, I will attempt to reconstruct the geneaological and economic connections between theories of language limits of computation and algorithmic or cybernetic capitalism in insisting the global industralization of these computational and formal theories which effaced the reference and the fleshy meaning from the syntax. In this regard, Kaplan’s seminal work might be mentioned : he explained that the keystone of Google’s success depends on three alogorithms, PageRank, Adword and auto-completion. According to him, for instance, “”auto-completion” can transform linguistic materials without value into a potentially profitable economic resource.”

In the second section, I will try to discern some semiotic aspects of data-isation and monetisation of digital language. In the digital language spaces dominated by algorithmic capitalism as an aspect of informationalism, signs are detached from their narrative function and temporal dimension in refering only to other signs.
In the third section, this work explores the question of speed and velocity which define a new linguistic capitalism. In fact, “fast language” is a key element in the marketplace of digital language both as content and a as technology. The discourse of speed is discussed with reference to the dromology of Virilio. Bourdieu’s notion of capital and field are used to emphasize the new circuits and forms of linguistic capital and new modes of accumulation in a global linguistic market. (Peters, 2012, 2013).


Bourdieu, Pierre, Language & symbolic power, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1991.

Kaplan, Frederic, “Linguistic Capitalism and Algorithmic Mediations.” Representations 127, 2014, pp.57-63.
Peters, M.A., “The University in the Epoch of Digital Reason: Fast Knowledge in the Circuits of Cybernetic Capitalism” In: Universities in the Flux of Time: An exploration of time and temporality in University Life , Paul Gibbs, Oili-Helena Ylijoki, Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela, Ronald Barnett (Eds.). (London & New York, Routledge, 2015.
Sack, Warren, “Out of Bounds: Language, limits, language planning, and the definition of distance in the new spaces of linguistic capitalism”, Computational culture 6, 2017.
Virilio, Paul, Speed and Politics : An Essay on Dromology, New York, Semiotext(e), 1977.
Keywords: Digitalization, Kaplan, Bourdieu, Language