By omitting a space and setting it in a san serif font, AIlingualism piles on ambiguities. On page or screen, it might tempt you to see all lingualism, the heteroglossiac babelsong, much like Adriano Celentano’s Prisencolinensinainciusol might tempt you to hear Anglophone snippets in what is stylized nonsense. “AIlingualism” sounds like eye-lingualism, I suppose, or the act of entongued seeing, which without going into the subtleties of synesthesia might be as simple as tracing tooth-shape, fishing for an offshed hair from a bite of egg salad, or checking the odontal in-betweens for temporarily trapped foodstuff. Hull from a popcorn kernel? When did I have popcorn? A similar phenomenon would be something like “retronasal olfaction,” which Michael Pollan describes in Cooked, as the crossover between senses, the role of olfactory processing within experiences of taste, or where smell and taste commingle and coinform.

Yet I mean something altogether different with AIlingualism. Used to be the over-assisted writing revealed itself owing to too many thesaurus look-ups. You’ve betrayed a faithful expressive act because we could almost hear Peter Roget himself whispering through your words. But thesaurus overuse is a lesser crime than the wholesale substitutive “assists” that walk us nearer and nearer to overt plagiarism: patchwriting, ghost writing, essay milling, unattributed quotation, and so on. An assist from a thesaurus was usually keyed to a smaller unit of discourse, which in turn amounted to petty ventriloquism. But as the discursive magnitude increases, so too does the feeling that the utterance betrays the spirit of humanistic communication, that fleshly-terrestrial milieu where language seats, swirls, and percolates, elemental and embodied. I think this is close to what Roland Barthes characterizes as the “pact of speech” (20) in “To Write: An Intransitive Verb” (1970) from The Rustle of Language (1989).

AIlingualism creates phrasal strings from a vast reservoir of language, not the ‘Grand Vat’ but in the vaguest of terms, a large language model, or LLM, whose largesse blooms on the shoulders of other people’s language–papers, books, discussion boards, social media chatter, and utterances in whatever additional ways collected and compiled. Not that utterances have shoulders. But they do, at their genesis, stem from beings in contexts, and although the writing itself is a technology that rebodies utterances, LLMs as an extractable reserve and pseudo-sense-making melange yet further extend that rebodiment. To invent with the assistance of artificial intelligence is to compose in a way uniquely hybridized and synthetic. Language games, in this case, work by different but non-obvious rules. AIlinguals, or users of LLMs to write, suspend the pact and engage in pactless speech.

It isn’t so much the case that pactless speech of this machine-assisted sort is destined to be disappointing, underwhelming, detached from terrestrial contexts, or otherwise experientially vapid. I can’t say I am in a hurry to devote any time to reading AI writing, other than comes with the shallowest of headlines glancing. And now that we’re solidly a year and a half into this “summer” (or buzzy hot streak) of AI, it continues to hold true that most everyday people are still puzzling over what, exactly, is assisting when a writer enlists the assistance of AI. AI is as often as not fumbling along with poor customer service chat help, with returning Amazon orders, and with perfunctory Web MD advice (“Have you tried sipping chamomile tea for your sore throat, Derek?”). It is helping to offer safe-playing might-rain-but-might-not weather forecasts. Looks up; no rain. And in this sense, it still functions, albeit within my admittedly small and mostly rural lifeworld, innocuously.

In a section called “5. Creatures as Machines,” Wendell Berry puzzles out a series of questions that, though they appeared in Life Is A Miracle, which was published in 2000, might just as well have been about ChatGPT:

Is there such a thing as a mind which is merely a brain which is a machine? Would one have a mind if one had no body, or no body except for a brain (whether or not it is a machine)–if one had no sense organs, no hands, no ability to move or speak, no sensory pains or pleasures, no appetites, no bodily needs? If we grant (for the sake of argument) that such may be theoretically possible, we must concede at the same time it is not imaginable, and for the most literal of reasons: Such a mind could contain no image. (47)

Such a mind could contain no image. AIlingualism propagates pactless speech; its intelligence can generate but not contain an image. Its memory is contrived (or dependent upon contrivance), not organic, fleshly, or pulsed neurologically. This is the greatest and gravest indicator of all: still, it better than holds on. AI is ascendant, picking up steam. What can this mirror about the world we’ve built, grinding along with its paradoxically gainful backsliding, AIlingual utterances–today–amounting to no more and no less than the throat clearings, ahem ahem, of commercial science and militarism. Of all the possible energias to put to language, to sacrifice our tongues to, these? Ahem ahem ahem.