This idea has come to me many times. The idea that English is becoming a universal language. That’s not an exact truth of course but you will find many people who know English as a second language. Reasons why abound. Commerce, colonialism, science, all played their part. Movies, music, and comic books too. I like to think that it is the incredible flexibility of the language. I love English to honest. It’s very nuanced as a language and full of words, each fit for just the right occasion. I have often pondered what it would be like if the entire world could communicate. If I had one wish it would be that I could read, write, and speak every language that now exists or has ever existed on the earth. Alas, I struggle to learn languages and am no prodigy!
Each time I ponder this I am brought to recall the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. That’s the story in the scriptures where God confounds the languages. What’s so interesting to me about this story is why God did it. Some say it was as a punishment for building the tower. They say that man built the tower to try to reach God or be higher than him. Some say that this was so close to the receding of the flood that the tower was built to withstand another flood and thus defy God’s will. A way to say that man will beat God at his own game. Those reasons aren’t the reason given though. The reason given is so much more interesting to me than that.
We read in Genesis 11:6, “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”
You see, the reason God did it wasn’t to punish man at all. God confounded the languages to hold man back. To slow his progress. He thought it prudent to restrain man from doing anything and everything that man imagined. It’s fun to guess at why a need to restrain man might be but for the sake of this post I’ll skip over the why. It’s enough for this discussion to understand that the scripture says that it was to restrain man. For those reading who don’t believe in God, that’s okay too, the idea still holds true regardless of whether or not you believe it actually happened.
The idea is that when people get along they represent an unstoppable point.
We really are approaching a post-Babel world. Not only the heavy use of English throughout the world but the ability to connect via the Internet using not only desktop computers but smartphones that we have with us all the time. If the person you meet doesn’t speak English you can use a translation app on your phone to at least get the basics of your point across. You might not sound elegant but you will be able to make yourself understood.
It’s been said that mankind has made more progress in technology in the last 200 years than in all his history combined. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that we can communicate better with each other. There are fewer barriers to us getting together.
You and I have never met. Yet we spend time on Facebook talking. Some Club Platypus members have been around long enough now, have conversed enough, that I consider them friends (you know who you are). That’s the result of communication.
When it comes to this religion and culture, are the final battles of understanding to be won.
Those things have their own language or better said their own lexicon. A set of terms unique to those situations. Just like an old short order cook might know what “Adam and Eve on a shingle” means there exists in each religion, each culture unique terms that those on the outside might not know. I always maintain it’s okay to ask people “what does that mean?” I’ve yet to run into someone who didn’t answer my question about what view their religion or their culture held on a certain topic. They have always been willing to share when I express honest interest. That’s the key, you have to actually want to know rather than just give yourself an opening to teach them how wrong they are for that belief.
We may have more people than ever speaking the same language, and that’s wonderful, but we also need to have more people on the same page. If all we have is the same language then God’s restraint will prove to be justified. But if we can communicate and converse, if we can listen and understand, then we won’t try to build a tower to our own vanities.
The long read: No language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. Is there any point in resisting?