Lost In Translation:

Turris Babel from Athanasius Kircher
Turris Babel from Athanasius Kircher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tower of Babel

By Herbert Vaughn

In the immortal words of a once very wise man: “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” [Ecc 7:8] KJV, Holy Bible. So please be patient in spirit as you begin this read…

And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel…

4. They said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the surface of the whole earth.” 5. Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6. Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one lip (language), and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. 7. Come, let’s go down, and there confuse their lips so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Now, after having trekked across this allegorical account of language and the origin of its divergence, let’s look at its current state of affairs. We now take for granted this very important human phenomenon and its impact on today’s cultural landscape. What would the world be like if what the author suggested in the above biblical allegory had not ever happened?  What would our world be like if all its peoples were of one lip?

Let’s try to answer this question by suggestion. This much is certain though, our understanding of each other would be a lot clearer. Our prejudices would no longer be predicated on our different localities; our mores, our philosophies, and our religious practices would certainly look a lot different. Why–even today’s area of study in such sciences like anthropology and archaeology would certainly be different. In keeping with the narrative’s inference, any one who unearthed some ancient text, drawings, and/or tablets, would be able to read and understand what was written without much ado. The sciences of linguistic, orthography and etymology would certainly be different, and perhaps–just perhaps–not even necessary. Mankind can hardly be  imaged in a world that has one langauge. It’s too much for the imagination to process. Which brings me to my reason for exploring this idea.

What really gave rise to this line of thought was a forum thread in an online course I’m taking called: ” Writhing II: Rhetorical Composing.” Ohio State University. April 22, 2013.Web. Here students explored the differences cultural influences has on language, writing, thinking, and “Thinking About World English & Learning,”  by Professors Cynthia Selfe and Jen Michaels.

In the videos these professors talk about the “world’s community of English and its various flavors and about  the global richness of this community.” They shared five tips for using and learning English in this global community. And more importantly that diction, syntax, and connotation are, at best, predicated on cultural differences.

From this same conversation, I found four videos from David Wandera on strategies for learning english as second language that furthered the conversation, but in more non-academic manner.

And from my classmates I got some home-brewed first-hand accounts via our forum threads of which I have included  as quotes below that were instrumental in shaping  my efforts:

From “My Mother’s Struggle“ by Deqa Mahammed located in our video section of “Unit 1: Thinking Rhetorically,” we have a first generation’s account of the struggles and triumphs one encounters with learning a new language. Ms Deqa talks about her Mother’s triumphs over the barriers a different language poses, the cultural-shock, the hardships, and the inherent prejudices this difference gave birth to. My own language, writing and learning experiences has been deeply affected by my cultural differences, being a–Creole African American and/or a “Post-War-baby-boomer,” has proven to be very trying in times past.

Next, is one of  my many favorites from the written thread forum by Vivian Jackson; a profound and insightful example of the complexities that arise when trying to merge two different cultures into one language called, “Sushi Meets Grits n’ Cornbread.” In this very poignant narrative about the different nuances found in a culture’s language, Ms. Vivian offered this quote: “Japanese dogs say, Won-won and not Bow-Wow.” It doesn’t get any better than that–Thanks Vivian.

At first glance, the structure of Rhetorical Writing Coursea II escaped me and posed a certain amount of trepidation. Rote learning has always been this author’s learning experience. Community collaboration and its synergy, although novel in its approach, was initially misunderstood. This approach not only dispels the prejudices language and cultural differences pose, but it also assaults the understanding–deepening and widening it. I know this because just from a peer review alone, made by an anonymous student who, described, assessed, and suggested this revised effort.

Are our differences merely one of connotation, syntax, and diction? Or just, perhaps, merely the results of an ancient over-worked deity’s sovereign will. “WON-WON. (Arseneo Hall–Man! Arseneo Hall ! )”