There’s a story about this. It’s kind of ridiculous, and so what I end up saying may be kind of blasphemous, hope you don’t mind too much.
So the people of Babel, they wanted to build a big tower. This was back in the days when everyone spoke the same language and they all lived together in this huge city and co-oporated on building this huge tower into the sky.
Unfortunately, the sky was where god was, so he got pissed off. He saw they were building a tower up to his doorstep and threw his toys out of the pram. He smashed up the tower, and cursed everybody on the planet to speak different languages so they couldn’t work together on anything that challenged him again.
If there was literal truth in that, rather than it just being a myth to teach people not to fuck with god and explain how languages and culture exist, it’d be all the evidence I need to think that god is a douchebag.
Seriously, with one move, he’s just created the roots of the majority of wars, conflicts, arguments, bigotry, racism, and a hundred other woes caused by cultural division. We’re talking about millions upon millions of lives throughout history; because god didn’t want people to co-operate on big projects.
Thankfully, his rules seemed to have changed a little. He’s let plenty of people accurately describe his demise philosophically, while letting the co-operation of scientists across the world send people right into ‘the heavens’ that were so off limits in the old testament.
But we’re still here, left with a thousand different peoples who all think they are separate; isolated by language and distrusting of the alien. We’re still reeling from this division.
So why are we really?
It’s community building, isolation and the fluidity of language itself.
It’s fascinating how similar so many languages are, and yet how much variety there is. Even within England there are dialects and variations and slangs and such. Then you span Europe, listening to a load of utterly different latinate languages that aren’t interchangeable but all feed into each other. You find out that Finnish is closer to Arabic than Swedish, even though there’s so many similar tones.
As civilisation evolved, language spread and diversified and changed and warped and separated and reuinited in a thousand different places. There will never have been a monolithic language that was split apart. Different tribes will have developed the specifics of language separately, as soon as the vocal chords and ears got to a point where differences could be made.
It’s beautiful. But the violence and isolation it causes is a shame.
And I wouldn’t want to remove people’s cultural identity, or let any language die out. They are all miraculous, intricate structures.
But I’d like it if we could start co-operating on things more. Put aside the differences and build a new Ziggurat.
Not to the heavens, we’ve got there already.
But to the future: together.
Illustration by Zoe.