Cinque theses a clavar ad le portas de Babel

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Cinque Theses a Clavar ad le Portas de Babel

Five Theses to Hammer on the Gates of Babel

Alexander Gode, Ph. D.

“International Language Review”, no. 29-30, octobre 1962-martio 1963.


Le concepto de un lingua commun pro tote le humanitate contine un elemento potente de mythologia. Illo es associate con le idea de un „Etate de Auro”, tanto in le senso de un antique stato de innocentia como etiam in illo de un utopia a venir.

The concept of one language for all mankind contains a powerful mythological element. It is associated with the “Golden Age”, both in the sense of a past State of Innocence as also a Future Utopia.

Como tote altere conceptos mythologic, illo ha evolvite pari passu con le aspirationes del homine, con su necessitates externe e interne, con le patronos e le principios de su pensar. Como formulate in le majoritate del discussiones currente, le concepto de un lingua universal reflecte le optimismo rationalistic del seculo dece-octave, e es le producto de ille fide in un progresso systematic que inspirava le scientias natural durante le secunde medietate del seculo dece-none, mais que supervive hodie solo in le conceptiones false de personas inculte.

Like all mythological concepts, it has evolved with man’s longings, his outer and inner needs, his patterns and principles of thought. As formulated in most current discussions, the concept of a universal language reflects the rationalistic optimism of the Eighteenth Century and is the product of the positivistic faith in orderly progress which inspired the natural sciences during the second half of the Nineteenth Century but which today survives only in popular misconception.

Io poterea, forsan, illustrar iste assertiones per referer me brevemente al turre de Babel e le Confusion del Linguas. Lo que ha evenite in ille die memorabile era, secundo le narration conventional, que Deo (insciente del principios le plus elementari del pedagogia moderne) ha date expression a su ira contra su infelice creaturas per practicar in illes un burla malevolente. Quando illes se ha mittite a examinar le resultatos del experientia, illes ha trovate que le unes parlava francese, le alteres judeogermano, ojibway, etc. Ancora nos es occupate in effortiar nos a reparar le damno insensate que Ille ha facite. Le adoption de un lingua artificial universal serea le resposta le plus elegante e comprehensive.

I may clarify these assertions by referring briefly to the Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues. What happened on that memorable day was – in conventionally rationalistic terms – that God (unaware of the most elementary principles of modern pedagogy) vented his wrath on his hapless creatures by playing on them a dirty trick or practical joke. When they came to, they found that some of them spoke French, others Yiddish, others Ojibway, and so forth. And we are still busy trying to undo the senseless damage He wrought. The adoption of a universal man-made language would be the neatest counter trick.

On pote interpretar in altere modo le historia de Babel. Lo que ha evenite, secundo iste version alternative, es que le constructores ha devenite si absorbite in lor proprie parte del interprisa que in poco illes ha trovate impossibile o pensar o parlar del ambiente si non per le conceptos de lor mestiero. Illes non ha comenciate subito a parlar francese e judeogermano e ojibway, mais le linguages professional de muratores, de carpenteros, de plumberos, etc. Iste interpretation del historia de Babel – le qual, a proposito, io non ha originate mais ha citate sin alteration ab Dante – es a un alte grado compatibile con nostre comprension moderne del phenomenologia multiforme del lingua. Nos sape de novo, como sapeva Dante, que le differentias fundamental inter le linguas son primemente differentias in le patronos conceptual, non in le formas del parolas.

There is another way of reading the Babel story. What happened – in terms of this other view – was that the builders became so engrossed in their respective portions of the venture that after a while they found it impossible to think, and hence to speak, of what went on around them in any but in the concepts of their craft. They did not suddenly begin to talk French and Yiddish and Ojibway but Bricklayerese and Carpenterese, Pipefitterese, and so forth. This way of reading the Babel story – which by the way is not original with me but cited unaltered from Dante – is eminently compatible with our contemporary understanding of the phenomenon language and its multiplicity of forms. We know again – as Dante did – that the basic differences between languages are differences in conceptual patterns and not in word forms.

Le effortio de levar le „malediction” de Babel – per quanto un tal effortio es compatibile con le interpretation de Dante – se concerne de un objectivo metaphysic e religiose: de effectuar, in preparation pro le fin del tempore, le harmonia ultimate (e original) del pensamento human, sin reguardo a qual cerebro individual servi de su bouillon de cultura. Reimplaciar iste objectivo metaphysic per le scopo physic de effortiar se a provider tote le humanitate de un medio commun de communication es practicar lo que Reinhold Niebuhr ha nominate „le strategia de fugir de problemas difficile per refugiar se in solutiones impossibile”.

The endeavor to undo the “curse” of Babel – as such endeavor is compatible with Dante’s view – is concerned with a metaphysical and religious objective: To bring about – in preparation for the end of Time – the ultimate (and original) harmony of human thought, regardless of what individual brain may serve as its culture broth. To replace this metaphysical objective by the physical one of striving to provide all mankind with a common medium of communication is to practice what Reinhold Niebuhr called “the strategy of fleeing from difficult problems by taking refuge in impossible solutions.”

Io mantene que le idea de un lingua commun pro tote le humanitate, secundo le definition usual, es un conception false, e al plus un cosa solo utile a exponer, quasi in un museo, como exemplo de un certe typo de aberration intellectual in le qual nostre patres e nostre avos ha perdite se a causa de lor appoiamento enthusiastic del positivismo rationalistic.

I hold that the concept of one language for all mankind – as commonly defined – is a misconception and at best an interesting museum piece, useful as an exhibit to exemplify a certain kind of intellectual aberration in which our fathers and grandfathers got involved by reason of their enthusiastic endorsement of rationalistic positivism.


Sin dubita il es possibile inventar artificialmente un systema efficace de communication verbal interhuman. De facto, il es possibile inventar centos de tales. Exemplos es esperanto e le si-nominate „Pig Latin” (i.e. „latino porcin”), que es un specie de lingua burlesc, formate per le mutilation systematic del anglese. In consequentia, io suggere que es absurde arguer contra esperanto per dicer que illo es inefficace, non practic, o repulsive. Nulle lingua es repulsive, si non le dialecto saxone parlate in le vicinitate de Leipzig (qual observation gratuite io insere a iste puncto solo pro illustrar quanto naive, quanto subjectivemente prejudiciate son tote opiniones de belle e repulsive quando se tracta de cosas linguistic). Dicer que esperanto non es practic es a pena minus naive que dicer que illo es repulsive. Le homine qui ha dicite que „On pote traducer toto in esperanto, on pote exprimer nihil” se effortiava de vincer per un argutia, proque le factos non le era utile. Le simple factos son istes: es disponibile un corpore substantial de litteratura original, e pragmatic e belletristic, in esperanto. De plus, il es provate ad evidentia, mesmo a supererogation. que le gente pote non solo conversar in esperanto, mais anque facer le corte in illo e maritar se in illo.

There can be no doubt but that it is possible to devise artificially an efficient system of interhuman verbal communication. As a matter of fact, it is possible to devise hundreds of such. Pig Latin and Esperanto are examples. I mean to imply that it is nonsense to argue against Esperanto by calling it inefficient, impractical, or ugly. No language is ugly, except the Saxon dialect spoken in the vicinity of Leipzig (which uncalled-for-remark I insert at this point only to illustrate how naive and subjectively prejudiced are all verdicts of ugly and beautiful when it comes to matters of language). To call Esperanto impractical is hardly less naive than to call it ugly. The man who said, “You can translate everything into Esperanto, but there is nothing you can express in it”, was trying to carry the day by a witticisrn, for the facts would not help him. These are the simple facts: There is available a substantial original literature – both reporting and creative – in Esperanto. Furthermore there is more than ample evidence that people can not only converse in Esperanto, they can make love in it and get married in it.

Quando, un momento retro, io ha accopulate in comparation esperanto e Pig Latin, io non voleva presentar Pig Latin como symbolo de lo que me pare contemptibile. Illo non me pare assi. De facto io lo reguarda multo seriemente, proque le existentia de illo es al minus si interessante como le existentia de Shriners, Kiwanis, Lions, Moose, Elks (istos son le nomines de certe confraternitates benevolente e plus o minus masonic in le Statos Unite) ab le puncto de vista de alicuno qui se interessa de studiar le psychologia del delicia human de societates secrete.

When, a moment ago, I coupled Esperanto with Pig Latin I did not do so because I regard Pig Latin as contemptible. I don’t. I take it very seriously, for its existence is at least as interesting as the existence of Shriners, Kiwanis, Lions, Moose, and Elks from the point of view of anyone interested in the psychology of the human delight with secret societies.

A iste puncto in le argumento mi amicos esperantista se rebella e me provide de un bon opportunitate de contrarebellar me. On me dice sovente, „Si, il es ver que esperanto es al presente un ‘lingua de initiatos’. Il ha illes qui lo sape e illes qui non lo sape.” Mais le puncto essential es que le sapientes (qui sape que illes son initiatos, e qui, de quando in quando, non pote resister al temptation de reguardar con disdigno lor fratres minus illuminate) non vole esser o remaner membros de un societate secrete. Pro dicer le veritate, illes crede e spera ardentemente que venira le die quando esperanto sera inseniate como lingua secunde in tote scholas in le mundo integre, e quando le corpore diminuente de non-sapientes va rememorar nos de que le obra non es ancora finite (como hodie le analphabetos qui remane in le mundo nos rememora de un labor de education non ancora complite).

Here of course, my Esperanto friends rebel and give me a wonderful chance to counterrebel. At this point in my argument I am often told, Yes, it is true that Esperanto is at present a “language of the chosen”. There are those who know it and those who don’t. But the point is precisely, I am told, that the knowers (who know that they are in the know and who occasionally cannot resist the temptation of looking down upon their less enlightened brethren) do not want to be or remain the members of a secret society. The point is precisely that they ardently believe and hope that the day will come when Esperanto is taught as a second language in all schools all over the world, with a shrinking body of surviving non-knowers on hand to remind us that the job is not finished (just as today the remaining illiterates throughout the world remind us of an unfinished educational job.)

Eh ben, si esperanto e le altere projectos de lingua auxiliar universal non vole mais son fortiate actualmente a jocar le rolo apparente de linguas secrete de communitates de privilegiate initiatos, per qual medio poterea transformar se iste situation traditional? Un sol responsa es possibile: per decreto; per le decision de un assemblea mundial de plenipotentiarios; per le benevolentia sapiente de un dictator mundial.

All right then, if Esperanto and other universal auxliary-language proposals do not wish but are forced at this time to play the apparent role of secret cants of communities of fortunate initiates, how can this traditional situation be expected to change? There is but one answer: By decree: by the decision of a world body of authorized representatives by the wise benevolence of a world dictator.

Mais io mantene que in le dominio del intellecto e del spirito, ubi son le radices del lingua, il es impossibile realisar per decretos un plano revolutionari. Le operationes del mundo spiritual constitue un economia libere ubi le planos administrative pote guidar e diriger mais non jammais compeller.

But I hold that in the realm of the intellect and the spirit – where language has its roots – there can be no planning by decree. The economy of the world of the spirit is a free-market economy where planning can guide and direct but never compel.


Io definirea le termino „lingua international” simplemente como „alicun lingua in uso in le communication international”. Io suppone que il ha pauc o nulle linguas que non, de quando in quando, corresponde a iste definition. Sin dubita il non ha uno que corresponde a illo plus frequente- e extensemente que le anglese. In omne caso, le effecto es risibile quando on juxtapone esperanto, o (pro ver dicer) interlingua, o alicun altere lingua construite o schematisate, con le anglese, dicente que illo es superior al anglese e destinate a expeller lo ab su position in le communicationes international. On pensa non de David e Goliath mais del rana que ha tentate a inflar se usque al grandor de un bove.

I would define the term “international language” or “interlanguage” simply as “any language in use in iriternational communications”. I suppose there are few or no languages that do not on occasion answer this definition. There doubtless is none that answers it more often and more extensively than English. In any event, it looks a bit funny when Esperanto or, for that matter, Interlingua – or any other constructed or planned language – is placed next to English with the claim that it is fit to crowd out English and destined to do so. The image which comes to mind is not that of David and Goliath but that of the frog trying to blow himself up to the size of an ox.

Il ha multe personas – non solo illes qui parla le anglese como lingua native – qui, per deducer ab le progressos realisate in le passato, predice que le anglese sera, tosto o tarde, le lingua commun unic, sia prime sia secunde, de tote le humanitate. Si iste prediction suppone que un jorno o le altere un congresso mundial de plenipotentiarios decretara que tote humano, nonobstante qual altere cosas ille vole studiar in le campo linguistic, sia obligate a apprender le anglese, illo non es plus meritori o plus solide que le prediction que volapük essera seligite un belle die como lingua universal de Terra. Si illo suppone que le lingua del Etate de Auro del futuro debe esser le anglese proque solo le anglese es compatibile con le concepto de un Etate de Auro, nos pote permitter nos a surrider e diriger nostre attention a altere cosas. Mais il remane le possibilitate que le prediction de un futuro functionalmente importante e mesmo gloriose del anglese es fundate in le supposition que le anglese habera semper, como al presente, le capacitate de concurrer e superar su rivales in le economia libere del communication international. Iste rationamento face bon senso. Io lo accepta como le mie. Mais io debe sublinear emphaticamente que il non se tracta de un monopolio. Le prediction non assigna al anglese le position del lingua international unic mais solo lo de un lingua international inter plures. In altere parolas, illo previde nulle transformation revolutionari mais solo le extension quantitative del remedios que nos possede actualmente.

There are many – and not only native speakers of English – who, by extrapolation from past progress, predict that English will sooner or later be the common primary or secondary language for mankind. If this prediction assumes that a world congress of plenipotentiaries will some day decree that every human being – whatever else he may wish to study in the language field – must learn English, it is on a par in merit and soundness with the prediction that Volapük will some fine day be selected as the universal language of Terra. If it assumes that the language of the Golden Age of the future must be English because only English is compatible with the concept of the Golden Age, we may smile and pass on. But there remains the possibility that the prediction of a functionally important and even glorious future for English is based on the assumption that English will continue to have what it takes to compete and excel in the free-market economy of international communication. And this makes sense. This view I share. But I hasten to emphasize that there is no exclusivity in this claim. It does not assign to English the role of the international language but of one. In other words, the prediction envisages no revolutionary change but only more and more of what we already have.

Io mantene que on ha ration de creder in le continuation del rolo supereminente que joca le anglese in le communication international. Io mantene que ni le qualitates proprie de ille lingua ni le configurationes del situation mundial poterea justificar le notion que le anglese usurpara un position de potentia monopolistic.

I hold that English may be expected to continue to play an outstanding role in international communication and that there is nothing in either the language as such or in the world situation to lend support to the notion that English might usurp a position of monopolistic power.


Si le mundo ha devenite minus grande, le contactos inter le nationes plus directe e intense, le causa immediate debe esser vidite in le florimento del scientia e del technologia post le Renascentia, e specialmente in le ultime cento o cento e cinquanta annos. Proque le scientia e le technologia se glorifica de tractar factos e non attitudes, on apprende solo per un investigation profunde que il non es un accidente fortuite que le scientia e le technologia moderne ha surgite non de un continuitate asiatic o african mais del tradition de individualismo occidental. Iste facto es de grande signification linguistic, ma significa que le lingua del scientia (io parla principalmente del scientias natural) – nonobstante como evolvite, comocunque transvestite in diverse robas linguistic – es de base e origine occidental.

If the world has shrunk, with contacts between nations having become more direct and intense, the immediate cause must be seen in the flowering of science and technology since the renaissance and in particular throughout the past one hundred or one hundred and fifty years. Since science and technology take pride in being concerned with facts, not attitudes, it takes some probing to recognize that it is no accident that modern science and technology did not arise from an Asian or African cultural continuity but from the tradition of occidental individualism. This latter fact is of great linguistic significance. It means that the language of science – no matter how it evolved, no matter how transvested in diverse linguistic garments – is basically and originally occidental.

Totevia, le sublinear del origines occidental del scientias – ex occidente scientiae – non debe inducer nos a facer le pretension absurde que le scientias son un prerogativa occidental. Al contrario, le preoccupation del scientia e del technologia con le factos objective los ha insertate con rapiditate e facilitate stupefacente in le communitates cultural le plus diverse in tote partes del mundo. Isto es le causa de que le contributiones a progressos ulterior in tote le campos subordinate de scientia e de technologia son facite in un numero de linguas semper crescente.

However, to emphasize the occidental origins of the sciences – ex occidente scientiae – cannot mislead us to the absurd claim that the sciences are an occidental prerogative. On the contrary, the objective factualism of science and technology has grafted them, with amazing speed and ease into the most diverse cultural continuities in all parts of the world. Hence the event that contributions to further advances in all the subfields of science and technology are being made in the ever increasing number of languages.

Nos debe manear iste situation, que non es solo un question de prediction, proque nos sta al limine de illo. Nos lo dominara per le dynamica del economia libere. Nos debe dar nos intense- e anque extensemente al studio de linguas. Il habera necessitate de un grande augmento de traductiones, si grande que le machinas traductori non potera facer toto sin le auxilio de semper plus numerose traductores human specialisate e experte.

We shall have to cope with this situation which is not just a matter of prediction, for it is at hand. We shall cope with it in the dynamics of a free market. We shall have to do more language learning, and not only more, we shall have to make it more diverse. There will have to be more translation, tremendously more, too much more for machines to handle without the help of ever increasing numbers of specialized and expert human translators.

Mais io mantene que in tote evolution anticipate del lingua del scientia, su substrato linguistic occidental va certo remaner essential e vital.

But I hold that in all anticipated evolution of the language of science its occidental linguistic substratum is bound to remain essential and vital.


Mesmo si on non accepta tote le theorias linguistic de Benjamin Lee Whorf, on pote, con ille, reguardar le linguas occidental – sub specie latinitatis – como variantes de un norma commun. Le consequentia de isto es le concepto de un „lingua ponte”. Si on prende alicun gruppo de linguas proxime de parentela on pote, sin violentia o artificio excessive, reducer los a un norma commun in le qual on pote transmitter un message toto efficacemente a parlatores de cata uno del linguas contribuente sin haber initiate les in illo. Interlingua es un lingua ponte pan-occidental. In illo, on pote transmitter messages, con efficacia adequate, a ille personas qui, sia per accidente, sia per nascentia, sia per le election de education, sape ben (o quasi) uno del linguas major in le orbita latin.

With or without Whorf it is possible to regard the occidental languages – sub specie latinitatis – as variants of a common norm. This has led to the concept of a “bridge language”. Take any group of closely related languages and you can – without undue artifice or violence – reduce them to a common norm in which a message can be transmitted quite effectively to speakers of each and every one of the contributing languages without prior initiation. Interlingua is a pan-occidental bridge language. In it messages can be transmitted with adequate effectiveness to those who by accident or birth or by choice of education know well (or fairly well) one of the major languages in the Latin orbit.

Io mantene que iste facto assigna a interlingua un function utile in communicationes scientific in tote le mundo. Io assere, definitivemente, que illo non es candidato pro le rolo – sia gloriose, sia ingloriose – de un lingua commun pro tote le humanitate. Illo non es un substituto pro le apprension de linguas estranie, ni un competitor de traductiones. Illo es un lingua ponte que pote servir pro adressar informationes a un auditorio o circulo de lectores heteropolyglotte.

I hold that this assigns to Interlingua a useful function in scientific communication anywhere in the world. Once and for all, it is no candidate for the role – glorious or inglorious – of one common language for all mankind. It is no substitute for language learning and no competitor of translation. It is a bridge language to be used in addressing a heteropolyglot audience or readership.