Sunday, October 4, 2020

English as a Sacred Language: the Fall of the Babel Tower



  The human ecclesia needs a common language and this language is now English, a true sacred language that allows all the children of Gaia to understand each other. You see in the clip above, Anastassia Makarieva, Russian researcher, opening up a whole new world for you. She can do that because she masters English well enough to be able to communicate with us. 
 
 
 
Nowadays, English is enjoying the status that was of Latin in Europe during the Middle Ages. It allows people from widely different cultures to speak and understand each other. It is a little miracle if you think that, up to no long ago, the world was a Babel where you wouldn't have been able to understand people living just a few hundred kilometers from you.
 
This is the pliancy of the human language, an incredibly powerful tool that serves also the purpose of tribal identification. And this second purpose is what creates the Babel tower: humankind as a vast mosaic of communities unable to understand each other. It is possible to overcome the language barriers using sacred languages: for centuries, Latin, Arabic, and Greek, provided the tools needed for communicating for the people living in the Eastern tip of Eurasia and North Africa. Along the Silk Eoad that crossed Eurasia, trade languages were spoken, the most common one being Sogdian, an early Iranian dialect, by now nearly forgotten (some versions of it are still spoken in Tajikistan).
 
None of these trade or sacred languages could ever claim to be global until English came. And, yes, today English has attained this status: the first language that can truly connect the whole human ecclesia. Take a look at this clip



Go to minute 3:10 and you can hear his holiness, Abune Paulos, telling the story of the Ethiopian Christian Church. Isn't it a miracle of our times that father Paulos can express himself in a perfectly understandable English? It is the same miracle that allows Anastassia Makarieva to tell us of faraway lands, rivers, and mountains in the clip at the beginning of this post. It is truly the human ecclesia (a greek word standing for "assembly") appearing.

Obviously, not everyone likes the prominence of English worldwide. You may call it "sacred" but it is true that it was carried everywhere by the American legions, just as Latin was carried by the Roman ones. But just as Latin remained with us for much longer than the Roman legions, English will stay with us well after that the American legions will have disappeared. 

For how long? Who can say? Right now, translating tools are reaching levels that make them able to act as transparent tools that allow people to express themselves in their vernacular language and be understood by others who speak a different vernacular. Will there come a time in which a man and a woman will fall in love with each other while speaking to each other using Google translate? 

Maybe. But, for the time being, we still have English, which is by now morphing into a true world language that even Google-translate may have troubles in replacing. And, as all sacred languages, English brings to us an entire corpus of sacred texts: at least one century of scientific studies that represent the true gospels (the good news) of the goddess Gaia. 

About how vital and widespread English is nowadays, here are some excerpts from the paper by Barry Asker. He stops short from calling it a "sacred language," preferring a more timed "semi-sacred language." But it is the same thing, after all! 

.... it was the sacred language Latin that enabled an Englishman, Nicholas Brakespear, to become Pope Adrian IV in 1154 and 1159. Without Latin this would have been impossible. Similarly, learning English (or some other colonial language) enabled selected colonized people around the world to participate (at a varying and uncertain level) in the life of the linguistic inner temple as well as of other colonial peripheries and so gain remote (but usually impotent) access to the inner streams of distant power. A language of the powerful has a connecting function between peoples at the peripheries at the same time as it exerts its central authority. The pull is in two directions simultaneously. Over time, as we witness today in world literature in English, the vitality and dynamism of a language can shift its centre of gravity, the former peripheries becoming an amalgam of disparate centres in a new and enlivened ‘international empire’ of English.

One domain where we see very clearly the legacy of English as a language that has adopted those that have adapted it is in contemporary literature. The dominance of nonnative English-speaking literature today is striking with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children voted the strongest ‘British’ novel in a quarter of a century. The act of learning English (combined with the demographic fact that for every native speaker of English there are now three non-native speakers) has created a variety of ‘literary nationhood’ that is transnational and multilingual – with the English language as the linking but fast-evolving thread. Rushdie writes that English is ‘no longer an English language, now grows from many roots; and those whom it once colonized are carving out large territories within the language for  themselves’. Chinua Achebe writes that English is able to carry the weight of his African experience ‘but it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings’. Han Suyin argues that English is ‘the international vehicle, most effective in accomplishing the task to which every writer is dedicated, i.e., in rendering the unfamiliar and the unknown accessible to all, removing the barriers of ignorance, interpreting for a world audience the wealth of our own cultures, our modes of feeling and thought’

In this literary space, one prominent legacy of English as a geo-political, semi-sacred language is the acceptance that literary expressiveness and human creativity may find an outlet beyond the politics of international hegemony and local contestation. National and linguistic boundaries are there to be negotiated away, not in a process of manipulation that privileges one language over another in the changing power structures that competing nations have created in the past and will continue to create in the future, but as part of a trans-national realm of writers and readers writing a ‘global fiction’.20

The nature and history of the English language (as the language du jour) has proven protean in creating imagined and shared cultural realities that extend beyond and above ideas of a bounded state or nation or ethnic group. A cursory glance at those who now write creatively in English around the globe is sufficient evidence of this. Indeed the concept of a shared linguistic culture predates political boundary-making (nation-states specifically) just as it will post-date it. In this sense, though the status of English as ‘semi-sacred’ may be accepted only ironically and metaphorically, there can be no doubt that today English exists as a creative force that extends well beyond its original borders and keeps within itself the  glowing fire of evolving and fierce energy. Indeed, it may be said that the creative literature produced by those for whom it is ‘foreign’ redeems the English language for all of us in our time.

 

 

2 comments:

  1. I will hold up my hand as a native "American & Canadian" English speaker. However, I have read Ugo for years and years now... AND... I absolutely love the English written here. However beautiful the words are... Most of the news is profoundly depressing. But I read anyway. What else can we do, but what we can to turn this civilization away from the rocks if we can?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My advice: you will only find depression in believing in a sudden and profound change of civilisation. Hope can be found when infdividuals close to you change.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)