Lost Language Day comments

John David Duncan jdd at efn.org
Wed May 29 06:20:45 UTC 1996

>2) "The fewer languages there are, the better the world will be."
>Here, of course, we have the (in)famous "Tower of Babel"-type of
>argument. Speaking different languages impedes communication...

I believe we can find a satisfying, alternative interpretation to the 
Tower of Babel story.  In my mind, it works this way:

	a) tall buildings imply linguistic homogeneity
	b) linguistic homogeneity spells disaster

(a) represents the fact that linguistic homogeneity is a necessary 
prerequisite (or, at least, an eventual by-product) of effectively 
exploiting a mass labor force; (b) the fact that the resulting injustice 
is "displeasing to God," or, at least (like all injustice) unsustainable.

In other words, people tend to interpret the Tower of Babel story as 
describing a misfortune inflicted by the wrath of God, but it makes more 
sense to me as a story of an unsustainable empire collapsing, and God 
restoring the "natural order" of diversity. 

>3) "This is only really of concern to romantic intellectuals. The
>speakers of the endangered languages themselves don't sense the

Collette Craig has some wonderful essays describing "Miss Nora," in 
Guatemala; well-told, this story could inspire many people to see the 
pain and loss that people feel as their language disappears, and the joy 
and desire in reviving it.  

Some other very clear, beautiful statements against the popular 
sentiments that might dismiss linguistic diversity can be found in Einar 
Haugen's writings on linguistic ecology. 

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