|Nothing better than Genesis --- The Beginning - as
a way to begin to discuss this question. The relevant passage (Genesis XI, 1-9) is the famous "Tower of Babel" episode. Genesis XI, 3-4 (22k)|
God was not very happy with this arrogant attempt to penetrate his domain (Heaven). How could they dare to build a tower whose top was in heaven. ("Bab-el". according to Babylonian etymologies, means "The gate of God"). And how could they dare to work against the divine design to populate all of the earth. He decided to take a close look at what was going on. Genesis XI, 5-6 (18k)
What he saw was, presumably, the great ziggurat of Babylon, with the temple of Marduk on its top. Needless to say, he was upset, and decided to punish the Babylonians. Genesis XI, 7-8 (17k)
The Tower of Babel by Brueghel
|" If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation would be least expected, it is America. Made up, as it is, of people ... speaking different languages. "|
|In the 17th century, the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, proposed a rather cruel plan to create an "invincible militia" presumably to be submitted to King Louis XIV of France. Young slaves from many nations would be gathered and trained in an island in order to become the toughest and most obedient soldiers on earth -- an early version of an all-purpose Rapid Deployment Force. Among the devices he proposed to ensure complete obedience was keeping apart speakers of the same language. Every platoon should be formed by slaves from different nations. This -- he believed -- would prevent them from conspiring against the commanding officers, to whose orders they would thus have to obey without questioning. (Later in his career, Leibniz realized that the diversity of languages might have other "uses" -e.g.., the reconstruction of the history of peoples and cultures.|
|No wonder that the rise of the centralized kingdoms in Europe was accompanied by the standardization of language usage
and the promotion of certain dialects -- at the expense of all
others -- to the status of "national languages". Repression
of minority languages was often violent: The American Blacks had
their tongues cut, if they dared to speak their native languages.
The two attitudes towards the multiplicity of languages express, thus, one and the same principle, which underlies the Biblical account.
|" The national ideal has once been e pluribus unum. Are we now to belittle unum and glorify pluribus ? Will the center hold ? or will the MELTING POT yield to the TOWER OF BABEL ? "|
|Arthur M. Schlesinger|