One of the wonders of the world that almost defies all ages is the linguistic identity of the world. It is somewhat dumbfounding that two human beings can speak, and the third is totally bamboozled. Language is a wall that is not easily penetrated. You can struggle to fit in a space just because you are not linguistically agreeable.
One of the mind-boggling issues, therefore, is the question of how diverse dialects came about. Historians and scientists have different opinions regarding the origin of languages. There are various theories that linguists advance to give possible origins of the languages of the world today. They include:
The Bow-Wow Theory
According to this theory, the language began when our ancestors started imitating the natural sounds around them. The first speech was onomatopoeic—marked by echoic words such as moo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and bang.
The Ding-Dong Theory
Plato and Pythagoras supported this postulate. It maintains that speech arose in response to the essential qualities of objects in the environment. Therefore, the original sounds people made were supposedly in harmony with the world around them.
The La-La Theory
The power of music is here displayed. The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen suggested that language may have developed from sounds associated with love, play, and (especially) song.
The Pooh-Pooh Theory
This theory holds that speech began with interjections—spontaneous cries of pain (“Ouch!”), surprise (“Oh!”), and other emotions (“Yabba Dabba Do!”).
The Yo-He-Ho Theory
Response to fatigues and burdensome activities. According to this theory, language evolved from heavy physical labor’s grunts, groans, and snorts.
All these notwithstanding, some bold opinions are also there. For instance, Bernard Campbell states flatly in “Humankind Emerging” (Allyn & Bacon, 2005), “We simply do not know, and never will, how or when language began.” To e great extent, even lexicostatistic—a method of comparative linguistics that involves comparing the percentage of lexical cognates between languages to determine their relationship—is deemed controversial and not sufficiently reliable.
The Bible, however, is not presenting difficulties on this subject. You may not have read the Bible yet, but you must have heard of the Tower of Babel experience. I first met it in a passage in my languages class before I got to study it myself. It tells of an account of the activities of the human family after the deluge with various intentions. Maybe you can read this wonderful passage:
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one, and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there, the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. [Genesis 11:1-9]
This tower of Babel account is a remarkable account of the power of language. With one language, they understood each other and worked towards a common cause in disobedience to God and exultation of their genius and abilities. But God simply confused their language so that there was a communication breakdown. In the world of imagination, I see the engineers at the top floor sending for mortar and brick and are given a spindle instead. In annoyance, they throw it at their subordinates and demand seriousness from them, which they cannot understand. When they try seeking a clarification, no one understands, and they get mad at each thinking it’s some joke, but finally, they accept that they are not one anymore. Everyone is supplying what was not intended, and the work is retarded. Eventually, utterly discomfited, everyone goes their way with their very vision blurred by mist and fog, never to be rolled away. The construction meant to be a monument to their pride became a memorial of their folly. After this, they were scattered across the world.
Of all the possibilities of lexical origins, I find the Biblical account very sensitive and reasonable. Look at the world today; people with the same language dwell together except where the waves of urbanization result in cosmopolitans. The anglophones, francophones, mandarines, Swahili etc., can be intensively found somewhere specific. People of these diverse linguistic heritage regard each other as family. If you dig deep into all battles ever fought on land and sea, it has always been tribal clashes. World wars I & II were essentially intertribal feuds, bringing together the European tribes and which ended up attracting the attention of the world, forcing different nations to take sides.
The same issue of language is also the basis of political intolerance and poor governance. People often think that great leaders are from their language group, turning a blind eye to any other option. Even if the candidate they share mother tongue with is endowed with demagoguery and obvious incompetency, they will rather suffer a semi-decade of doom loop than think outside the box. It is because people have been attached to their linguistic heredity that you cannot convince them otherwise. Maybe, now you understand the root of all biases and prejudice based on the wall of lexical difference.
Which Language, then, Does Everyone Understand?
Despite the bare and disturbing facts well enumerated, there is a language that everyone understands. This is not statistics but mathematics. The most widely spoken language in terms of native speakers is Mandarin, owing to the billions of Chinese and English follows it. However, not everyone in the world understands them.
Surprisingly, there is a language that everyone understands. Every time I speak it, I get good feedback and satisfaction. It is more beautiful than Bengali or Arabic. You must have spoken it before. It is the language of kindness. You meet anyone you don’t know and figure out what you can do to make their day; you will always get each other. The World is so full of unkindness and abuse. People have been misused and wasted. Negative energy is being served every day everywhere. We can make a difference and ring a lovely note to a disturbed soul by showing just a little kindness.
You may have a wall of Mandarin between you or a bulwark of Spanish in between, but they will always understand if you speak the language of kindness.