A little poetry in praise of language diversity

You probably know the story about the Tower of Babel: how humankind, speaking only one language, had come together to build a tower that would reach all the way to heaven, and how God stepped in and frustrated their efforts by making them speak a multitude of different languages, thus making communication and cooperation a lot more difficult.

Today, everyone is talking about how in the not-so-distant future, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine translation, we will be able to communicate without language barriers (again), no matter where we’re from and what language we speak.
Another viewpoint – or maybe even fear? – is that one day there will be only one universal language left in the world, possibly a mixture of all kinds of languages, but probably heavily based on (simple) English.

Simply put: ever since Babel, humankind has been striving to communicate more easily and efficiently again. But is that really an altogether good thing?
Yes, yes, there are a gazillion good reasons in favor, no question there. However, I recently came across an article on Huffington Post by Harold Anthony Lloyd, a Wake Forest Law School professor, who advocates language diversity, praising it as something that is actually a necessity for us to better understand ourselves and our world. It really is worth the read!

He also included “Two Sonnets  for Too Xenophobic Times”, called “Razing Babel I and II”, which I gladly share here. Enjoy!

Razing Babel I
Before the tower, we were garroted
By one chord twisted fast around our necks
That kept us on its single cord until
God’s razor cut the knot. We raise new sounds,
Explore new knowledge, claim new liberties
We hear in novel syllables that, too,
Improve our poetry through vaster stocks
Of words and rhymes than ever heard before.
Translation tunes new sounds and teaches, too,
Not merely of things said but of ourselves
Now singable in sounds unknown before
As languages compete in novel sports
Of wrestling one another for the pen
That none should hoard lest Babel rise again.

Razing Babel II
In simpler times a single tongue served as
A single handle on a broader world,
A single inventory of the means
To praise a multifaceted Divine.
In simpler times a single king sat throned,
A single hunter wearing Adam’s skins
That claimed one sovereignty unchallenged of
Both man and beast without conflict of laws.
In simpler times a single way rose up
Unto the Heavens, a single tower men
Devised with one geometry and built
With proper symmetry of form until
God’s thunderbolts, O Nimrods now and then,
Roared God will have diversity in men.
© Harold Anthony Lloyd 2016

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