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‘Basic Basic English’ proposes a possibility of dialogue between man and machine, transcending the language and translation limits of current artificial intelligence algorithms. At the center of the work are four videos of a trainer, some cross between a spiritual advisor and digital prophetess. This entity invites viewers to learn a new language based on a redacted version of English. They explain the rules that should be followed to communicate with machines: keep to short sentences and simple words, use the imperative, and speak slowly. Zalmanson’s lexicon contains only 648 words, enabling productive communication with AI systems without creating confusion. To produce the new dictionary, Zalmanson used “Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar” by the linguist Charles Ogden, which contained 850 essential English words and was used by the British government in the British colonies throughout Asia. By asking gig workers from previous British-occupied territories to perform the original lexicon and running it on Google’s algorithms, he marks the works that algorithms don’t understand when spoken in foreign accents and then omits them from the new, reduced language.
In an age where humans are beginning to use conversational artificial intelligence on a daily level, Basic Basic English raises questions about the emergent control relations in the dialogue between biological and digital entities and the implicit requirement from humans to adapt their communication style, dialect, and speech to align with current power structures and technological limitations.
In the virtual version of the work, users are invited to perform the lexicon themselves, interact with machine agencies and fellow visitors and explore how such AI-mediated communication might misrepresent and misinterpret individual voices and messages.