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A Universal Language

WHY are there so many languages in the world today?
WHY not just one common tongue?
WHEN and where did mankind become multilingual?
WHAT brought about this diversity of languages?
WILL the world ever have a universal language?


TODAY'S world is a divided world — in its politics, religion, ideologies and in its social order. It is also hopelessly divided by uncounted languages and dialects.


Thousands of Languages

According to the Encyclopedia Americana there are about 3,000 to 4,000 languages in the world today.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says there are anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 languages in the world.

The truth is, nobody really knows how many languages and dialects there are in the world. All are agreed, however, there are at least a few thousand languages spoken by the earth's inhabitants.

Scores of languages (dialects) are spoken in China. India has "845 distinct languages and dialects." The USSR, 112 different languages. And in West Africa approximately 60 million natives speak over 400 languages. Perhaps that explains why Ghana has made English its official tongue.

Each of these nations whose peoples speak different languages or dialects are seriously handicapped — even greatly weakened — by their multilanguage culture.

One of the chief reasons for Britain's and America's strength is found in their one language. They have been united in a common tongue — the English language!

Each year, countless billions of dollars are spent in studying foreign languages, in translating millions of books, articles, periodicals and other reading material, and in overcoming innumerable misunderstandings — all brought about through language barriers!

Inventors have tried to construct translating machines to overcome the language-barrier difficulties — but all to no avail! The idea is to make a machine which will automatically translate material (fed into it in the form of the spoken or written word) from one language to another!

One such machine is reported to have translated the English proverb, "Out of sight, out of mind" from English into the German equivalent of "Invisible idiot!"


Needed — a World Language!

Anyone who has traveled extensively in the world has experienced the utter frustration caused by being unable to communicate with other nationalities because of a language. barrier! Just last summer, while traveling through ten countries on the Continent of Europe, I experienced the language barrier. The language barrier can be embarrassing at times. It can also be very exasperating!

My wife and I and two of our friends stopped to eat breakfast in a small cafe in Northern Italy. It so happened that none of us spoke Italian, and the Italians at this cafe spoke not a word of English.

Did you ever try ordering breakfast from a foreigner who didn't understand a word you said? Well, just try it some time and see how difficult it is!

We tried to convey to these Italians that we wanted toast, eggs, butter, honey, milk and coffee.

Believe me, it was a most difficult task to get those Italians to understand just good, plain English! We resorted to the international language of gestures, and I think we even drew pictures to try to get across our meaning. Repeatedly, the Italian waiter would disappear into the kitchen and bring out another item of food — only to have us shake our heads, thereby showing him that it wasn't what we had "asked" for.

If I recall correctly, it was not to difficult to get across to him that we wanted eggs, milk and some of the other items. But the sticky one was the honey! It was only with a great deal of perseverance, and a certain amount of ingenuity, that we were at last able to convey to this Italian what we really wanted — honey! I think we finally drew a picture of a bee and a piece of honeycomb. He finally got the point, but had to inform us that he didn't have any honey. We left him a generous tip in appreciation for his patient efforts in helping us overcome our language difficulty.

Yes, it can be difficult — time consuming and very exasperating — trying to communicate with another when neither of you understands the other's language.



Why So Many Tongues?

Why is the world so hopelessly divided into thousands of languages? When did the world become this way? And what prevents the world from devising a world language which could be adopted by all nations? Or, has this already been tried — unsuccessfully?

Before we answer these questions, we must go back over 4,000 years in history. The time — soon after the Flood. The races and families of men began to multiply. One man became especially ambitious! This despot Nimrod began to rise above his fellow men and organize them into city states (Gen. 10:8-11).

How many languages were there at that time? "And the whole earth was of ONE LANGUAGE, and ONE SPEECH" (Gen. 11:1) is the answer.

At that point in the history of mankind, the various branches of the human family rebelled against the government of God. They wanted one world of their own. "And they said to one another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime [bitumen] had they for morter.

"And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name [let us become famous), lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth" (verses 3, 4).

But — their Creator, the Almighty God of heaven, saw what man was about to do. He acted. He confounded or divided their speech.


Why God Confused Man's Speech

But why? The answer is revealed in verses 6-9: "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is ONE [that is, they are united], and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now NOTHING will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

"Go to," said God, "let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

"Therefore is the name of it called BABEL; because the Lord did there CONFOUND the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."

Many have read over this account. Few, however, have really understood its terrible import!

Why did God object to the people having one language? And why did Henot want them to be "one" — that is, united?

The Eternal God well understood the almost unlimited capacity of the human mind which He himself had created! God in heaven knew that, if these rebellious human beings remained united, speaking one language, they would pool their mental and physical resources — for DESTRUCTIVE purposes!

It was not that God objects to man's having one language. He knew, however, that man would, by his accumulated knowledge, utterly destroy the whole world and all life — if He did not intervene — and quickly!

So, mercifully, Almighty God in heaven divinely intervened in the affairs of mankind on this earth! It became necessary for God to step in and confound or confuse man's language so that the different families (which were later to become tribes and nations) would become hopelessly confused and divided among themselves. They would not, then, be able to combine their scientific and technological knowledge. Had the Creator not intervened and confounded man's language at the Tower of Babel, men would have raced along in the acquisition of scientific knowledge. Mankind would undoubtedly have advanced in scientific and technological knowledge to such a degree that the nations would have discovered how to use the atom even before the time of Christ.

God Almighty, however, ordained that He would let man follow his own codes of ethics, devise his own human politics and governments, establish his own forms of religion, and in general, go his own way for 6,000 years. After which, God would send Jesus Christ to this earth to rescue mankind from the brink of world suicide, and show man how to live a life of happiness, of accomplishment, of peace and prosperity.

That divine act put an end to mankind's "one" language. Man's unified efforts to build the Tower of Babel was the signal for Almighty God to intervene and separate races and families by giving each race and family the language which the Creator wanted that particular people to speak. The races and nations have remained divided linguistically ever since!

Now let us see how mankind began, in the latter part of the 19th Century, to try to undo God's work of confounding the language at Babel.