Babbling

I love words. Especially those which are so difficult to define. Ineffable, and of course, halcyon. Then there are the words in each language that are nearly impossible to translate. I have often dreamed of creating a language of all the inexplicable, untranslatable words. And I’ve wonder, if we did, would we have a language that brought us closer to the meaning of life?

You know the origin of the word “babbling”, don’t you? It comes from the story of the Tower of Babel. Man built a tower trying to reach heaven. God destroyed the tower and scattered the population to the corners of the earth, giving them all different languages to thwart their vain efforts. It’s a strange story if you try to tease out its meaning. It can’t just be a lame attempt at describing why there are so many languages, can it?

Travel always makes me contemplate the mystery of the human experience–the differences we hold so dear to try distinguish ourselves from the “others”. But the more I learn, the more I see our similarities. And the more I see how what differences there are, serve to enhance and enrich what appear to be fundamental truths.

And so I wonder… as with language, if we consider together our world views, consider the sum total of our religions, and embrace all the diversity of our racial differences–and their similarities… would we then, together, come closer to touching the mystery that surrounds us?

Would that, in a sense, reverse the diaspora that was wrought after the destruction of the Tower of Babel? Could that be the lesson of the story? Could it be that our challenge in this life is to bring all people back together, to mingle our knowledge and thereby build a true tower that reaches heaven?

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  1. Once again reconditely touching the inscrutable!

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  2. It is our challenge to bring people back together, if only in small ways. The tower is built brick by brick, stone by stone.

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  3. I love the space between words, where minds meet. Sometimes it’s amazing to me how sometimes language, cultural and religious barriers can be crossed if we open up to the realisation that if we’re here, we’re all a part of something so much greater than which we can define with language. Language was always meant to be representational, so is music and so is art. The beauty of life, for me, is in the feelings you can’t represent through any of the forms. What we can’t share and only feel is what makes those moments so special.

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    • I agree with you completely. Sometimes I’ll take a photo of something that I just can’t capture and in that moment I find I have very mixed feelings–disappointment that I couldn’t capture it, but then also a deeper joy that there are moments that exist only then and only there.

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  4. I like words also…especially when they organized in such a pulchritudinous way! Keep writing.. Your thoughtful words keep me thinking! I’m grateful for the final words I read tonight not to be about economics, politics, or modern day babble. I like that I am falling asleep contemplating the idea of true human unity! Thank you! Peace!! Niles

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  5. Nadia, FPB talks about you all the time, and he mentioned your work here. I am glad that he did.

    What a thought provoking piece with many implications that can be teased out.

    My hypothesis is that language evolved in response to a natural need for communication and organization. Given the broad geographical isolation of tribes, this evolution resulted in many discreet root languages. However, as technology has advanced, and the world has shrunk we have by necessity been forced to reduce the friction caused by cross-tribal translation. The result is that we are naturally being driven closer and closer towards a language that is more broadly understood.

    Today, accounting the language of business, or Java and other programming languages are standards globally. I think spoken or written language will follow the same trend.

    Working against that trend are those who believe that language is integral to cultural identity. France, as an example, has implemented policies in an attempt to preserve the use of French for fear of losing their identity. I don’t believe language is cultural identity, I see it more as a tool. The “survival of the fittest” will demand continuing evolution towards more converged communications and/or technology that makes unique language irrelevant. And, I think it would be better for all!

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    • I fervently agree that we need to come together worldwide. But I also cherish the richness that our differences bring to our perspective on life. I would hate to lose all the complex nuances found in untranslatable words, for example. Also, I’m fascinated by the trend toward greater and more “subdivided” cultural identity these days, as in the struggles in Spain with the Basques and now Catalan. I wonder if there isn’t a way to reach common understanding and commonly understandable language and still preserve cultural identity.

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  6. Nadia, I think people are afraid of differences, and are loath to trust those they cannot communicate with or understand. So the diversity of languages has served to keep us apart. Rather than celebrate differences, we become tribes that look alike and sound alike.

    The trend towards better communication whether through the broader adoption of English, or technologies, are hugely positive. We can be different and still be understood. Along the way, we are also discovering the amazing value diversity brings to life!

    I hope you are right and that a common language unlocks the acceptance of differences.

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    • That’s an interesting perspective, Leon. If I could restate it, you’re saying that by moving toward a single language and being able to communicate better, we have a platform from which to appreciate our differences. Is that it? If that were true, I would applaud it. Except that, as a writer, I mourn the loss of a single word from our combined lexicons.

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