The Sixth Language

by Robert K. Logan

I absolutely loved Mr. Logan’s earlier book, The Alphabet Effect. So I snapped up The Sixth Language as soon as I learned of its existence. What a disappointment it turned out to be!

The fundamental idea that Mr. Logan touts is that programming is the sixth revolutionary form of communication with the power to change the way we think. He lists the previous five as:

1. Language
2. Writing
3. Mathematics
4. Science
5. The Internet (?)
6. Programming

Unfortunately, although he frequently refers to “the six {languages | forms of media | communication systems}”, he never once lists them. I flipped through page after page trying to find a straightforward list. In the one chapter in which he explicitly discusses these forms, he breaks it down into much smaller pieces. For example, he breaks writing down into a bunch of steps, including tokens, pictures, symbols, an alphabet without vowels, and an alphabet with vowels. It might be that the missing language is the Internet; I just can’t recall.

The first third of the book presents his basic arguments; the remainder of the book seemed to me to ramble pointlessly, and I gave up about two-thirds of the way through. 

Mr. Logan does develop his main ideas rather well in the first few chapters, and he offers an interesting idea: that we should replace our current school curricula with one based on the six forms of language. That is, the youngest students should concentrate first on spoken language, then written language, then mathematics, science, the Internet, and programming. He does not recommend that one must be completed before the next one is taken up; they will need to overlap. Thinking about it, one realizes that this really does not constitute a radical break with the past; instead, it re-orients the structure of curricula. 

This book is heavy with media theory (Mr. Logan worked closely with Marshall McLuhan), which I found increasingly digressive. Readers should probably have some background in the field of the history of media before attempting this book.