“The close relationship between language and religious belief pervades cultural history. Often, a divine being is said to have invented speech, or writing, and given it as a gift to mankind. One of the first things Adam has to do, according to the Book of Genesis, is name the acts of creation:
‘And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature, the same is its name …’
“Many other cultures have a similar story. In Egyptian mythology, the god Toth is the creator of speech and writing. It is Brahma who gives the knowledge of writing to the Hindu people. Odin is the inventor of runic script, according to the Icelandic sagas. A heaven-sent water turtle, with marks on its back, brings writing to the Chinese. [Author’s note: Actually, the father of Chinese writing is Fu Hsi, a legendary Emperor who ruled 5,000 years ago. He found the eight key trigrams that make up the supernatural I Ching, Book of Changes, based on markings he found on a tortoise shell.] All over the world, the supernatural provides a powerful set of beliefs about the origins of language.
“Religious associations are particularly strong in relation to written language, because writing is an effective means of guarding and transmitting sacred knowledge. Literacy was available only to an elite, in which priests figured prominently. Echoes of this link reverberate in English vocabulary still, through such connections as scripture and script, or the reference to scripture as Holy Writ. And there are widespread sanctions for human action expressed authoritatively in phrases of form: ‘for it is written’.” David Crystal, Editor, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Second Edition, Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1997, p. 388.
“… The name of the Sanskrit alphabet is Devanagari, which means ‘pertaining to the city of the gods.’ Hieroglyphic, used by the ancient Egyptians for their formal documents, carved in stone, means ‘sacred stone writing’ (the Egyptians also had the hieratic and demotic scripts more generally used on papyrus). They believed that writing had been devised by Toth, the god of wisdom, and the Egyptian name for writing was ndw-ntr (‘the speech of the gods’). The Assyrians had a legend to the effect that the cuneiform characters were given to man by the god Nebo, who held sway over human destiny. Cuneiform was produced by pressing wedges into wet clay tablets (the name means ‘wedge-shaped’); it was used by the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and other peoples of the Mesopotamian region from about 4000 B.C. to the time of Christ. The Mayas attributed writing to their most important deity, Itzamna [god of wisdom]. The lost prehistoric writings of Japan was styled kami no moji, or ‘divine characters.’ As late as Christian Middle Ages, Constantine the Philosopher (another name for Cyril, apostle of the Slavs) is described as having had Slavic writing revealed to him by God.” Mario Pei, The Story of Language, The New American Library, New York and Toronto, 1965, p. 96.
We might conclude (despite the Bible or because of it?) that human intellect began with the word spoken out loud to the world. In this word spoken face to face, in its righteousness and wisdom, lay our merit and our honor. It would take a lot more work to restore its original luster once we had tarnished it with lies.
Whereas human corruption must have worsened with the written word that subtracts us from the world, whose lies and stupidities are just empty scribbles on a piece of paper or pixels across a computer screen, indistinguishable from truth and wisdom except by their long-term consequences.
There may have been pre-deluge city dwellers. Their last survivors may have been the first transmitters of the Hindu Vedas, imitated by subsequent Cretans. Their cultures of origin may have restricted the written word to accounting functions: inventories, astronomy, astrology and calendars, and only allowed sacred stories to be memorized in a spoken format. Could this have been a form of cultural Darwinism, culling the dross and preserving the inspirational? “Learn it by heart if it is beautiful, truthful and elegant enough to inspire the hard work of memorization and recitation; forget the rest.”
Now that we have not only speech and writing but also recordings and transmissions of them in staggering quantities, even if on ephemeral media, what mode of expression would supplement both, placing us before our deepest merit and truth, lending us the goodness of sheep, like that found within a wolf pack?
We retain an ordinary expression for a tool that kills, “a weapon.” Take the phrase, “learning tool.” What a clumsy turn of phrase! And of course it has no popular contraction.
Besides, picture a weapon. See it clearly? Now picture a learning tool.
“A what?” You might ask, “There is no such thing. Did you intend to mean a book?”
Has this mind-exercise taught you anything about our cultural bias? In a sensible world, we would call guns “fire harms, side harms and long harms.” Regular soldiers would belong to the “Harm Forces.” All this would be quasi-obscene weapon-talk, and superior Learning tools would be everyday items.
Info elites regulate the form and content of language. George Orwell concluded that this was the top priority of the info elite (my term, not his): regulating the info proletariat’s communications. Money, news, sports, food, war, education, crime: these are merely alternate forms of communication — info symphonies, choruses, dances and solos that each culture must orchestrate.
National sovereignty is the control that info elites exert over their host proletariat both inside and outside the national membrane. Such communications may range from a free intermingling of info proletarians under minimal control to a final, totalitarian simplification during which popular discourse is reduced to the crash and roar of drumfire.
In Gaia: The Human Journey from Chaos to Cosmos, Pocket Books, New York, 1989, p. 64, author Elisabet Sahtouris quotes Ivanovitch Vernadsky, a Russian geologist who called life “ … ‘a disperse of rock,’ … a chemical process transforming rock into highly active living matter and back, breaking it up and moving it about in an endless, cyclical process.” If life can be conceived as a “disperse of rock,” then our civilization would be just another form of geochemical dispersal.
In peacetime, the political membrane that encloses a society lets information (people, money, data and goods) flow through it more or less freely. In wartime, that membrane becomes inflamed with fire, blast, flying debris and radio static — or their latest, most lethal equivalents. No signal but murderous propaganda may penetrate it. Get caught consorting across this membrane in wartime and get punished. All cosmopolitanism is strangled.
Once and for all, Learners will dissolve these membranes by providing diverse peoples with a common government, a shared language and a global culture that takes great pains to welcome them and their complete diversity.
Esperanto, Ido, Volapuk and a succession of verbal patchworks have been developed, that give undue advantage to dominant language groups. Glossa is a recent linguistic invention about which I know little beyond the name.
With the exception of those whose passion it is, no-one will have to study one among a half-dozen languages spoken by a handful of travelers, (Chinese, Spanish, Arabic or English: it matters little which). Instead, everyone will learn one language as a supplement to their native tongue. Ideally, this language will differ from current languages in its linguistic neutrality. Dominant language groups should gain no unfair advantage using it.
Its grammar should include the best rules of all those known. Each language group has evolved its own distinctive solutions to grammatical problems: some elegant, others more complicated. These complications are a compound of accent and grammar with many exceptions and irregularities to memorize. The tortured pronunciation and spelling of English, the arbitrary spelling and gender-differences of French and other languages, the musical intonation and endless written characters of Chinese: these difficult-to-learn features make good examples.
Those idiosyncrasies are essentially defensive language barriers, shibboleths, linguistic placentas wrapped around an embryonic proletariat to shelter it from alien contamination. If we speak with an accent or write with too many spelling or syntax errors, we betray ourselves to the locals as foreigners and potential enemies.
Dogmatic schooling compels people to learn the trendiest foreign language. The latest one is English — perhaps soon to be followed by Chinese. Hapless students are hammered for failing to master the dominant language, even after their window of linguistic adaptation has slammed shut. Few language students practice often enough (very often) the foreign language skills they need in the real world. Instead, they forget those valuable lessons because they were taught them after they’d grown too old to retain them. Precious Learning time is wasted: a major goal of weapon education.
This problem could be worked around by teaching language skills to children during their most receptive infancy. In the future, preschoolers will learn an international manual sign language that reaches into every corner of the globe. Students will practice it on a daily basis in their own communities inside and outside the classroom. Foreign travelers will find confident signers at every stop along their way.
I have learned since, that there are major variations between American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) much less between them and Chinese Sign Language (CSL) and others. These are fully mature languages, much more literary and less telegraphic, that transmit complicated, abstract information. I had in mind a simpler form of communication that would let international guests and hosts put each other at ease with a non-threatening code of familiar gestures. Say 500 to 1000 terms universally understood.
According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Second Edition (David Crystal, Editor, Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1997, p. 227) such a language already exists. It is called Amer-Ind, developed by Madge Skelly for use by the orally handicapped from a system of coded gestures common among American Indians.
They used it to overcome language barriers. The brightest young Learners – setting out on their maturity quest as the best have always done – had to make their way through five hundred nations each with its own language, (two thousand nations and languages if you count those in South and Central America).
Modern Learners could adopt Amer-Ind as a basic traveler’s language. People could pick it up with relative ease, since they could understand almost half its gestures without additional training. It would evolve into something more subtle and refined in its own good time.
Young children pick up spoken languages during their window of linguistic adaptation, which normally stays open from birth until around the third birthday. It doesn’t matter how many languages children learn during that period or how difficult they are. It’s amazing to watch most infants pick up proper grammar, extensive vocabularies and complex social conventions with relative ease. Not only can an overwhelming majority of children learn all the exceptions and irregularities adopted by their native language, but also the deliberate deviations of local dialect in a flawless manner after a short time. This performance cannot be duplicated later on in school where most receive their instruction in foreign languages and native grammar. I certainly can’t.
When it comes to learning new languages, children with a relatively low IQ can outperform the most advanced theoretical black box that our best linguists have come up with. This finding should inspire Learners’ confidence in human genius — at least once we cast off some of humanity’s worst and most cherished routines … like not teaching children languages when they would be most receptive to them: a typical failing of weapons education. We don’t send children to learn languages in preschool or prior when they’d be young enough to absorb it naturally.
At the earliest receptive age, Learner children will appreciate many more pertinent maters of interest. Adult Learners will enrich young minds to healthy saturation. We will accelerate children’s flight from misery, promote affection and distribute survival necessities openhandedly. In so doing, we will raise a generation of prodigies the likes of which has never been seen before. They will unlock stacks of epic mysteries for us.
A new written language will have to complement the hand-signed one. If possible, the time taken to learn it will be shortened and its transcription speed, accelerated. Its calligraphy will be as beautiful as Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic and Khmer, every page of which will be a stunning work of art. We should replace paper and ink with a direct manipulation of light, a natural chemical transformation (for example, fingertip salts on a treated surface) or some superior recording medium (thus easier to use). Our devastation of forests for paper is horrific and should be stopped.
An odd idea keeps coming to mind. We must bring the media back to the message and not the other way around. Whatever that means …
We may revert to what may have been the writing method of prehistory. I speculate that broad leaves fresh-picked from trees planted along stately boulevards would have been scribed with a fingernail or a sharp spine, again picked off a tree.
Take a moment to picture those ancient towns dotting river lines now sunk below the waves: their magnificent avenues, statuary both divine and historic, lavish bazaars, fountains gushing sweet water without limit, parks splendid beyond belief, fat fish spilling over from the sea, and the pedestrian landscape as inviting as the best of ours are today.
The more sophisticated a written culture, the more ephemeral its written medium. Look at us with our pixie pixels. Not much ancient literature remains because really old documents were written on tissue-thin stationary. All, except for the mud-clay tablets of bloodthirsty empires upon which our military cultures love to fixate, their simply dried clay baked into ceramic when imperial capitals and their tiny libraries were overrun by a hostile horde and burnt to the ground unexamined.
Imagine broadleaf trees growing in parks and along sidewalks. Pick a leaf off one and write by scratching a message onto it with your fingernail. Or it might have been the bark peeled from a tree trunk, with the texture of fine-crust pastry. Specially treated leaves could have been dried and pressed into archive-quality sheaves of legible text.
After many centuries, those media would have turned into unreadable dust, their scribes and their exotic wisdom would disappeared and turned “prehistoric.”
Could they have grafted leaves back onto smart trees in order to make copies or transmit their message to another plantation? Draw me the limits of our biotech potential once we will have fully grasped how living species grow.
Organized religions were prototype corporations peddling their exclusive dogma by forbidding the competition of other faiths. Nowadays, international corporations wipe out cultural diversity to peddle across diverse cultures their products of little worth with respect to that diversity.
In the future, user demand for high quality, custom-crafted artifacts will dictate their production, and the benefits of religion will justify mass piety. Human culture will become as diverse and varied as we can make it, within which Learners will freely pursue their topics of passion.
During this new Golden Age of Learning, every language group will share its depths of significance and mystery. An army of expert translators will stand on-call from its network. Drawing on their expertise, other Learners will appreciate the finer nuances (new-awnss, subtle details) of foreign culture. The cultural conformity fostered by our corporations will come to an end. Diversity will become a Learner imperative, and cultural mediocrity will cease to release every consumer’s purse.
Author’s note: If you are troubled by this Hitler quote, my apologies. Please consult Quoting Hitler out of Context.
“It is certain that in the future the importance of the individual states will be transferred to the sphere of our cultural policy. The monarch who did most to make Bavaria an important center was not an obstinate particularist with anti-German tendencies, but Ludwig I who was as much devoted to the ideal of German greatness as he was to that of art. His first consideration was to use the powers of the state to develop the cultural position of Bavaria and not its political power.”
“Indeed, in this process of constant change, the most advanced nations may eventually enter, may indeed already be entering, that blissful state imagined in 1930 by John Maynard Keynes: a condition where we no longer need care about the basic economic problem of survival that has plagued the human race since its beginning, but are able at last to do only the things we find agreeable and pleasurable.
“Keynes unforgettably wrote: ‘Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure which science and compound interest have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well’. ‘But,’ Keynes warned, ‘none of us can look forward to this new and permanent golden age with any equanimity. For,’ he pointed out, ‘we have been trained too long to work, not to enjoy. It would be a huge problem for the ordinary person with no special talents, to occupy him or herself without work; if one needed evidence, one could merely look at the melancholy record of the rich minority anywhere.’
“We would need, as so few of us can, to ‘take least thought for the morrow.’ We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.”
“But with this interesting corollary that even Keynes could never have guessed at: these agreeable activities may themselves become sources of income and of economic growth, may generate new industries of a kind never known to earlier, simpler eras. Rich, affluent, cultivated nations and cities can sell their virtue, beauty, philosophy, their art and their theatre to the rest of the world. From a manufacturing economy we pass to an informational economy and from an informational economy to a cultural economy. During the 1980s and 1990s, cities across Europe – Montpellier, Nimes, Grenoble, Rennes, Hamburg, Cologne, Glasgow, Birmingham, Barcelona and Bologna – have become more and more preoccupied by the notion that cultural industries (a term no longer thought anomalous or offensive) may provide the basis for economic regeneration, filling the gap left by vanished factories and warehouses, and creating a new urban image that would make them more attractive to mobile capital and mobile professional workers.”
Only there’d no longer be “advanced cities” and, by implication, “backward” ones. The Earth would be transformed. These days, we live on Planet Mogadishu on a Bad Day: each of our cities is just another repulsive, sinister and suffocating stopover, perhaps with tiny ghettos of privilege. Planet Mogadishu would turn into Planet (name your favorite city). Its most disgusting towns will be rebuilt with Learner diligence or else get shifted to a better setting. The worst among them will be converted into well-forested parkland.
Otherwise, every district will shine in its own unique way, like the most attractive neighborhood in your favorite city.