Machine Languages as Media Infrastructures


  • Mujie Li University of Sussex


With the context that digital and computational technologies operate symbols in processing information and communication, it is necessary to look into machine languages and think about their relationship to us. This paper argues that through affording communications between machines and humans, machine languages become structures of media. To construct this argument, the paper will first define machine language as a pragmatic way of operating symbols and clarify its mathematical, mechanical and socially interactive levels. Based on Roman Jakobson’s linguistic theory, the paper outlines that the metalingual and the poetic functions are the two major functions of machine languages. Because a diagrammatic thought deriving from Charles Sanders Peirce and Gilles Deleuze’s linguistic thoughts is helpful to understand the functions of language at different levels of machine languages, the paper then moves on to explain how the functions of the metalanguage and poetics work in a diagrammatic thought process of machine language.

To examine the argument, the paper selects a virtual city model of the Alphatown as a case study, at first analyses how the metalanguage functions via the mediums of listing and navigation in the Alphatown, then looks at how the affects of boredom, being lost and strangeness arise from the media infrastructures based upon metalanguage, and analyses where the poetic function lies in the transmission of affects and how the sensual and the material aspects of machine languages emerge thus functioning as poetic. With analyzing the metalingual and poetic functions in a diagrammatic

thought of machine languages, different levels of machine languages can be considered as media structures, while media structures manifest themselves as material and processual in the meantime.