Babel Revisited

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Jacques Barzun writes:

It is a noteworthy feature of 20th century culture that for the first time in over a thousand years its educated class is not expected to be at least bilingual.

Dean Briggs of Harvard College (c. 1900) noted that

The new degree of Bachelor of Science does not guarantee that the holder knows any science. It does guarantee that he does not know any latin.

In Los Angeles many people speak [or read] at least two languages often times three or more. Not through intentional education really but through the happy side benefits of immigration. Immense global migration patterns and economic forces are moving Asians east and Latin Americans north. Only those from “back east” [i.e. the Midwest] did not benefit linguistically from migration to the City of Angels.

How much did we lose when we as a culture lost language? Are we Babel revisited? How important is it to add Spanish or Mandarin or Hebrew to our menu of self education? What do you think?

So many universes to explore. So little time. God I love this planet.

Welcome to the future.


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4 thoughts on “Babel Revisited

  1. I am determined to be trilingual in the broadest way possible:
    — English, fortunately my native tongue: the global “lingua franca” of the information age and the world of commerce.
    — Spanish, spoken by the majority of people whose continent I share (the Americas) and by many in my neighborhood and oikos as well.
    — Mandarin, spoken natively by the majority of people on the planet I believe, or at least has more native speakers than any other language.

    I figure that between these three languages, I have the best possible chance of understanding and being understood by the folks I meet on the Pacific Rim.

    My 13yo son happens to agree with me, but is taking it several steps further. He has a strategic plan for tackling five major language groups and hopes to dabble in other dialects from there.

    As to Babel, perhaps the deeper question is not one of shared language but of shared culture. How often have you been in a situation where language was a barrier but shared elements of culture made communication possible?

  2. I’m fluently bilingual, English and French. I would definitely love to pick up a third… I’m sure that a bit of Greek and Hebrew may slip in there now that I’m taking seminary courses. But I’m expecting to become fluent in those 🙂

  3. in americas history people have brought different elements of their culture (including their native language) here and blended that with what was already here. i think its great to know more than one language however, because america is such a large country there hasn’t been a need to learn other languages. Even if you did there would be very little opportunity to use it on a regular basis.

    I noticed in Europe that people are bi- and tri-lingual because geographicly they are so close to one another that they have to be. They have the opportunity to use it regularly.

    I think ultimately if you choose to move to a country that speaks a different language than you, you should learn their language.

  4. As someone who is bilingual, I agree that if you move to a country you should learn their language. I will not dispute that. In fact, I get annoyed going into Koreatown and not beng able to understand signs because they won’t be courteous enough to translate them.
    On the other hand, the whole reason that I am bilingual is because the first time I went to mexico on a missions trip I knew that my ability to minister to other people and nations was SEVERELY hampered by my inability to speak their language well. I want God to use me to reach more than just people of my own culture. I want God to have the flexibility to send me anywhere.
    The cool thing is, I am living that dream now. I am working with a bilingual culture here in LA. I was made for this time and this place.

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