Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The idea of a universal language is at least as old as the Biblical story of Babel and its fall — the mythical point of which is that there was once a time of a universal Adamic language (and then something happened, analogous to the Fall of Man). In the Christian tradition there are various attitudes to regaining the supposed golden age, before Babel; these include optimism, pessimism, and recourse to parody and warnings on hubris, depending on the wished interpretation of the myth.
In other traditions, there is less interest in or a general deflection of the question. For example in Islam the Arabic language is the language of the Qur'an, and so universal for Muslims. The written classical Chinese language was and is still read widely but pronounced somewhat differently by readers in different areas of China, in Korea and Japan for centuries; it was a de facto universal literary language for a broad-based culture. In something of the same way Sanskrit in India was a literary language for many for whom it was not a mother tongue.
Comparably, the Latin language (qua Medieval Latin) was in effect a universal language of literati in the Middle Ages, and the language of the Vulgate Bible, in the area of Catholicism which covered most of Western Europe and parts of Northern and Central Europe also.
Recognisable strands in the contemporary ideas on universal languages took form only in Early Modern Europe. A lingua franca or trade language was nothing very new; but an international auxiliary language was a natural wish in the light of the relative decline of Latin. Literature in the vernacular languages was on the rise from the early Renaissance, while learned works mostly ceased to be written in Latin during the course of the eighteenth century.
In the work of Gottfried Leibniz there are found many elements relating to the possibilities of universal languages, notably that of a constructed language, a concept that gradually replaced that of a rationalised form of Latin as the natural basis for a projected universal language. Leibniz's work is bracketed by the earlier mathematical ideas of René Descartes, and the satirical attack of Voltaire on Panglossianism. Descartes succeeded with his unifying theory, wedding algebra to geometry in the future analytic geometry. Extrapolating, Leibniz imagined subduing all conceptual thought to 'algebra', that is, some sort of symbolic logic. In his terms, a calculus ratiocinator could put reasoning onto a firmer basis, a mathesis universalis with scope all our thoughts. The universal language aspects, still elusive today despite decades of research into symbolic artificial intelligence , required a notation, the universal characteristic. This intended pasigraphy might have been a written ideographic language, rather than a spoken one; perhaps based on a rationalisation of supposed principles of Chinese characters as Europeans were familiar to them in the seventeenth century. The lower-level concepts of an alphabet of human thought (like an upgraded organisational scheme of a thesaurus or Dewey notation), and an algebra of thought which would be rule-based and for manipulation, were supposed lesser matters to slot in.
Voltaire's Candide took aim at Leibniz as Dr. Pangloss, with the choice of name clearly putting universal language in his sights, but satirising mainly the optimism of the projector as much as the project. The argument takes the universal language itself no more seriously than the ideas of the speculative scientists and virtuosi of Jonathan Swift's Laputa. For the like-minded of Voltaire's generation, universal language was tarred as fool's gold with the same brush as philology with little intellectual rigour, and universal mythography, as futile and arid directions.
It was, though, in the same century that the a-priori language (as it is sometimes called) became an activity pursued enthusiastically, on the fringes of intellectual life. See for example An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language by John Wilkins.
At the end of the nineteenth century there was a large expansion of constructed languages intended as genuine spoken language. See for example Volapük. The main practical consequence was the eventual growth of Esperanto.
The ideas of complete conceptual classification by categories, on the other hand, is still debated on various levels. The story Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Recognition by Jorge Luis Borges is satirical, but has often been quoted (for example by Michel Foucault) against the whole idea. Some careless authors have taken Borges' teasing category list as a true report, which, if nothing else, shows that prejudices against the possibility of complete, encyclopedic categorisation are well entrenched.
- And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house"..."And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire"..."they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues"..."devout men, out of every nation under heaven"..."the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?" - Acts 2:1-13
In the story, Saint Peter proceeds to explain this miracle as the fullfillment of the prophecy by Joel. A Christian interpretation views this event as the reconstitution of the division brought about at the Tower of Babel. The tower to reach heaven represents a Titan's (futile) quest, but the descent and acceptance of the Holy Spirit upon the men at the Pentecost represents that quest's fulfilment.
- The Artificial Language Movement (1985) Andrew Large
- The Search for the Perfect Language (The Making of Europe) (1995) (La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea, 1993) Umberto Eco
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details