Two news items today, seemingly unrelated, got me thinking.
Firstly the awful news from Paris. The dead now number 153, according to official reports. I have two friends, that I know of, in Paris at present. I am very glad to know they are both safe and well.
Secondly the news that Ireland has grave concerns that the Irish language is in danger of extinction. This news is months old, but came to my notice only today. Coincidence – that made me think.
Pádraig Pearse is famously quoted as saying “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” – “A country without a language is a country without a soul.”
This is perhaps true, but all countries have a language, even if it is someone else’s. What I have observed in my travels is that a different language implies a different culture. Perhaps what Pearse means by soul.
Having lived in a tiny country with over 80 languages in use and 20 more that are dead or dying, and living now in a huge country with many more than 150 languages in daily use, I know that there is great diversity in culture between language groups. We say we celebrate diversity, but in many cases I see, not diversity, but differences. Some of us enjoy those differences, some clearly feel threatened by them. Some see them as a cause for enmity. Witness the tribal warfare in PNG, the troubles in Solomon Islands, the factions in Australian Aboriginal communities.
Tribal, ethnic and cultural differences. Dietary differences. Sporting preferences. Sexual preferences. And then there are religious differences and intolerance, all over whose imaginary friend is superior. Whose rules of righteousness are obligatory.
It seems to be human nature for a proportion of any population to be opposed to acceptance of the differences of another group. It seems to be human nature for a small proportion to be disposed towards violently eliminating or excluding those who are different in any way.
If we cannot universally celebrate diversity, which as a species we clearly cannot, maybe we need to find some way to eliminate difference. I don’t know how. It appears to be impossible. One way may be to let languages die. Encourage them to. All speak the same.
On reflection, however, that would be another impossibility. We are growing new languages all the time. Put a Scot, a New Yorker and an Australian together and you will hear three distinct dialects of English with very different pronunciations and vocabulary. Eventually they will be as diverse as other languages that stemmed from a common root. Perhaps TV will prevent this. If TV survives the apocalypse.
One thing is for sure. There will never be universal peace, because human nature. Sad.
― o ―