Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why are there different languages? from spiohe

Dear Word Spy,

Why are there different languages? Why can't we just all talk and write the same language?

From spiohe

Dear spiohe,

I haven't forgotten your other questions! (above) - it's just that it is taking me a lot of thinking to answer. Perhaps it's a bit like - why are there so many different breeds of dogs or cats? There's something about the world that seeks to create diversity, which means things being different from each other. 

Lots of people over the centuries have also asked your questions, spiohe. One person even tried to create an international language that we could ALL speak, which he named "Esperanto" (You can read about this in "The Return of the Word Spy"). He hoped that if we all spoke the same language, perhaps we would stop fighting each other. But it seems it was just as hard to make us all speak the same language as it is to stop wars...

In the Bible, in the book of Genesis, there's a famous story about the Tower of Babel which gives an explanation for the different languages. In the story the ancient people of the world, who only speak one language,  began to build a very tall tower, higher and higher. The story says that God was worried that people would become too powerful, so he split up the one language into lots of different languages, and then they stopped building the tower (I suppose because they all started arguing and couldn't understand each other!) 

Here are the words of the story, translated into English from Hebrew, which is the language this part of the Bible was first written in:

 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Great questions, spiohe - keep 'em coming!

Your pal, The Word Spy

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