Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Humanity, We Need to Talk


My wife and I were on our way to the local commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Bab and were listening to the Jim and Margery show on talk radio. It seems that a certain political figure caused a stir by recently making remarks about language. He made two basic arguments. First that while there is not a need for a law designating English as the national language in the United States, immigrants to the U.S. should learn the English language. The second point was that those of us who live in the U.S. should follow the example of Europeans and be more multilingual than we currently are. He made a particular point about making sure that our children learn Spanish. The hosts of this show started to debate each other about what this politician had said. On one side was there was the argument that having everyone speak English is important because it promotes national unity and that countries that officially promote bilingualism have not been successful. On the other side was the argument that the lack of more multilingualism in the United States represented a kind of ethnocentric arrogance. The points being made during this show were pretty typical of the wider debate going on in the United States about "English only" versus varying degrees of multilingualism. What I did not hear (and rarely do) is the idea that human beings being able to communicate with each other represents a spiritual imperative with at least one practical implication, the development of a world language. Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith had this to say about this issue:

"It beseemeth you and the other officials of the Government to convene a gathering and choose one of the divers languages, and likewise one of the existing scripts, or else to create a new language and a new script to be taught children in schools throughout the world. They would, in this way, be acquiring only two languages, one their own native tongue, the other the language in which all the peoples of the world would converse. Were men to take fast hold on that which hath been mentioned, the whole earth would come to be regarded as one country, and the people would be relieved and freed from the necessity of acquiring and teaching different languages."
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 137)

"From the beginning of time the light of unity hath shed its divine radiance upon the world, and the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another's writing and speech."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 127)

"The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home. These things are obligatory and absolutely essential. It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 165)

It seems to me that the heart of the matter as far as diversity of languages in the United States or elsewhere is that human beings need to be able to communicate with each other. Such communication is a necessity if we are to be able to live and work together. It is also a necessity if we are to deepen the bonds of love and unity among us. A world language is a practical means of facilitating more effective communication among the peoples of the Earth. It would be nice to see this possibility being seriously considered by more people as we struggle together to create a world that better reflects the reality that we all "dwell in one world and have been created through the operation of one will."