The story told in Genesis includes a mythological explanation of how we came to have so many different languages.
Today a segment of Americans are so fearful they can’t stand to hear anything but English. They rebel at ATMs which ask for English or Spanish. The same for answering systems pressing 1 or 2. They believe that English only should be taught in school and Government needn’t waste money catering to people too lazy to learn English.
Yet even a little education usually takes a person out of that zone into appreciating how other languages enrich us.
The Founding Fathers, most with some education, probably knew French enough to understand it or enough to get around Paris. Besides the French helped us beat the King. The Hessians were Germans and they helped us whip the English. How could you trade with Native Americans if you didn’t learn some important words in their native tongue.
French gave them access to a long literature and perhaps most importantly to philosophy and revolutionary democratic ideas that found their way into the new Nation, the Declaration of Independance, The Constitution and other founding documents and ideas.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying French. But traveling in France I couldn’t do much more than read a few signs. I spent years studying Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament and had a dabble of Hebrew, the language of the Od Testament. Alas, as the man said, “I’ve forgotten more than I ever learned.”
As my wife and I began to realize we wanted a life together this Argentine woman needed to get past my being illiterate in Spanish. I assured her I could learn. Being in former Spanish territory helps: Los Angeles (Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles), San Bernardino, Santa Ana, La Cienago (the swamp). But even though I’ve learned some…..well….I have a long way to go.
A group of a dozen of us got into this and I asked what languages were represented. Answer: Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, Perl and other computer “languages” and I’m certain if we admitted it, others of us might have referred to the languages we had studied, now not fluent but have touched us anyway.
All these expose us to ideas, cultures, and different ways of saying the same thing.
Because somewhere in our humanity we do experience the same world. We have families, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins; across the board.
The insistance on uniformity in language assures us of one thing, the drift into uniformity in thinking. There’s nowhere to go. I need and value learning new things.
When my wife retrieves a childhood Spanish word and explains it to me we don’t know where the conversation will go. Did you know the heel in a loaf of bread is called “suegra” Mother-in-law?
Stay curious. Enjoy.