The title refers to a biblical story – once the world was one, all people spoke the same language, and they could all understand each other. United, they aspired to defeat God himself. They decided to build a massive tower at Babel in an effort to reach the skies, and topple the heavens. To stop them, God was forced to strike them at their most vulnerable spot – suddenly they started speaking in different tongues. Mutually incomprehensible, they could no longer work together. They left the site and spread around the world. And the tower remained unfinished.
This is in brief, an explanation of human history itself. Communication problems can be blamed, for most of the problems which the world faces today. A universal language would go a long way in solving these issues.
The three leading world languages – mandarin Chinese, English and Hindi are worlds apart, quite literally – in system, grammar, scripts and demographics, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. This naturally inhibits the complete exchange of ideas, cultures and trade benefits – how can you attempt to understand a person, if you can’t even say ‘hello’ to him?
Apart from this, a universal language will greatly facilitate the coming together of peoples. The network would then truly come alive – how many times has this happened, you locate that elusive research paper, only to find it is in Swedish, or you have found the love of your life through chat, only she doesn’t speak much English? Well, not any more!
However, we must not let these dreams cloud our vision – the practical problems in developing such a language, cannot be ignored. Researcher Ludwig Zamenhof, trying to find the same solution, invented ‘Esperanto’ – an artificial language – most prominent of all yet developed – based on the Latin and Greek roots of most European languages today. But in spite of its technical soundness and the goodwill behind it, it failed to take off. Why??
A radically new language cannot possibly overtake the already established international languages – the logistic problems are surely overwhelming. Each language is unique – apart from the common terms for general things – man, woman, water,…..they all have special expressions based on their culture and environment – the Eskimos, they say, have twenty one different words for ice and snow. To become an adequate substitute for everybody’s mother tongue the new universal language will have to have a massive lexicon but what about the other accompanying difficulties? A new language implies, an almost impossible job of collection, translation and publishing of the world’s books – not to mention the reissue of important documents to every single person, in the new official language, it will be a complete redo!
Perhaps then, a present day language would do.? Indeed, many today would claim that English is the universal language. But, there are some inherent flaws in its structure, without some restructuring and simplification the dream is still impossible.
The future holds many promises the unification of mankind under one flag, of a deeper, manned exploration of space….the list is endless, but the prerequisite to all this is a universal language. True, English is the prime contender for this spot – its capability to incorporate words from other languages and if need be, to make up new ones, is unique to it, but it is still a long way off – the tower of Babel will be completed, but no, not in my lifetime I believe.
Lee Wie Mien Jackson
[Image courtesy: http://www.logoi.com/pastimages/img/tower_of_babel_3.jpg]