Resources for the Ascension of Baha'u'llah
- Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, passed away on 29 May, 1892. This holy day is commemorated by Baha’is all over the world and is known as ‘The Ascension of Baha’u’llah’.
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It’s a testament to our international age that I have two sets of foreign in-laws; one family lives in Mexico, the other Germany. Once every three or four years, each family will visit, and despite all of our best efforts – and heaven knows their English is better than my Spanish or German – it goes like this: We struggle through an hour or so of halting conversation over dinner, all of us speaking slowly, gesturing wildly, and, of course, growing louder and louder, as if shouting will help us be understood. Finally, with no less love in our hearts but mentally exhausted, we either retreat to the nearest television to watch something mutually enjoyable or we say “adios” or “auf wiedersehen,” hug, and call it a day.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how small the world becomes, or how much goodwill or love you hold in your heart for others, not being able to communicate is a drag.One way to approach this barrier would be for everyone to become multilingual, and thankfully many people in the world are, some to an astonishing degree. I stand in awe of those who are raised speaking three or more languages, and linguistic geniuses who can speak seven or eight. But I’ve got a full-time job and three kids to raise. Not going to happen!
And even if I did put the rest of my life on hold and learned Spanish, German, Russian, and Mandarin, who is to say that my next trip might not take me to Finland or Japan, and there I’d be, back at square one. There are 4,500 languages spoken in the world today by 1,000 people or more.
The other option, and one that would actually work, would be for everyone on earth to learn the same one language in addition to their native tongue, allowing any Earthling to communicate with any other Earthling with a maximum of two languages under their belt. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Bahá’u’lláh called for the establishment of a common world language, whether invented or naturally occurring, to facilitate the oneness of humanity. In Abdu’l-Baha’s famous letter outlining the seven “candles of unity,” He wrote, “The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse.”
In 1887, a Russian Jewish ophthalmologist, L.L. Zamenhof, set out to create a universal tongue when he invented the language known as Esperanto, literally “one who hopes.” (Interestingly, Zamenhof’s daughter, Lidia, became a distinguished Bahá’í). Zamenhof’s goal was to create an easy and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding. Alas, while a deeply noble experiment and one that may yet work, more than a century later Esperanto does not seem close to catching on globally.
But this is not to say that a world-wide language is not currently under development. At this particular moment, it seems that today’s lingua franca, as it were, is English. This is the case for several reasons. British colonization of America, Australia, Canada, India, and Africa gave the language a huge geopolitical base from which to grow.
The emergence of the United States, in turn, as a business powerhouse of the 20th century ensured that English would become the language of international business. This is in evidence in China, Japan, Europe, and Latin America.
Add to that the phenomenon of global media, driven largely, for better or for worse, by American and British cultural exports, and you have the makings of the world’s first default universal auxiliary language.
English is not, by a long shot, the most widely spoken first language in the world today, a distinction that belongs to the Mandarin of the populous Chinese. The three most widely spoken languages on Earth today are:
1. Mandarin: 873 million native + 178 million secondary = 1.051 billion
2. Spanish: 400 million native + 100 million secondary = 500 million, and
3. English: 380 million native + 720 million secondary = 1.1 billion.
The telling number in all of this is the final one, which shows that when native English speakers and speakers of English as a second language are added together, English tops the list. And perhaps most significantly, that far more people speak English as a second language than any other.
But if English indeed does become the global language that Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá foresaw, don’t look for it to be identical to current English after several generations of ongoing global cross-pollination.
Rather, I believe we will see an extension of what we already have: an organically changing version of English that constantly is being infused with words from other cultures that convey more specific meanings and subtle cultural origins. Long before globalization, English was a melting-pot language, incorporating Germanic Anglo-Saxon dialects, French, and Latin, and in more recent centuries adding useful terms from cultures around the world. Perhaps a language that already has such a long history of mutations and assimilations is our best chance at a first universal language. Read a passage in the original Canterbury Tales, let alone Beowulf, and you’ll see what 700 or 1,000 years will do to a language. Whatever language we land on, don’t get too used to it. For language is a living growing thing.
What is important is that when we share one language, be it Esperanto, English, or one yet to be named or even formulated, the skids of diplomacy will be greased, travel and international exchanges will feel effortless compared to even today, misunderstandings will be reduced dramatically, and one will be able to travel the world and feel at home in any country. Perhaps Baha’u’llah’s most famous utterance is “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” Being able to communicate quickly and easily is basic to that citizenship.
Like everything else Bahá’u’lláh ordained, this is going to happen. The only question is, how much can we accelerate the unity of the world by actively pursuing it?
The in-laws are on their way.
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What a great post! I can relate to not being able to communicate properly with persian in-laws, however being half-persian myself, I probably don’t have a very good excuse 🙂
Corinne (September 9, 2012 at 12:07 AM)
Did you know that Abdu’l-Baha himself learned some Esperanto with the assistance of Dr. John Esslemont, author of Baha’u’llah and the New Era and later a Hand of the Cause. Abdu’l-Baha also urged the Persian Baha’is of his time to learn Esperanto, and in fact I have seen letters from LSAs in Persia written in Esperanto to the US National Spiritual Assembly.
Have you read how strongly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá urged Baha’is to learn and use Esperanto and to help get it into the schools? Although he never said it would definitely become the adopted international language, he did definitely say that it would “bestow divine benefits” upon humanity.
It drives me crazy sometimes. Why do we English-speaking Baha’is persist in ignoring this key divine promise? Why do we persist in ignoring his urgings and this definite declaration? The basic answer is that we English-speaking Baha’is are judging his words by our own worldly measures, by the measure of the material power of English and not by the inner spiritual value of world citizen equality that Esperanto makes immediately available to us. Using Esperanto, we are all equally self-selected citizens of Earth Community. Because of the history of English-using peoples, in using English we tend to come off as the advantaged addressing the unadvantaged, the oppressors addressing the meek.
I would like to write a pamphlet about the Persian-speaking and English-speaking Baha’is learning Esperanto as a temporary bridge language to help them overcome their language barriers. This of course is not limited to just Persian-speaking Baha’is, but it could come in handy in terms of the way in which we handle Baha’i refugees who do not speak English.
Incredibly, strangely, despite all of Abdu’l-Baha’s urgings, we Baha’is have vastly under-explored the immediate usefulness of Esperanto in terms of helping our own children and our own community achieve the goals and benefits of bilingualism and of a universal auxiliary means of internal communication. There is nothing standing in the way of our achieving this except our own complacency and laziness. It’s up to us. Deeds, not just words.
Abdu’l-Baha specifically told us to get Esperanto into all the schools. By this one step alone we could have changed the character of our education system and made it into a source of peace and understanding amongst peoples. But what have we done?
Sorry to sound a bit angry, but when one stops to realize how deeply we have underperformed on this issue and how great an opportunity we have thrown away by not taking Abdu’l-Baha’s words seriously, it’s hard not to try to sound an alarm bell to help wake us up.
But it is never too late to start doing what we should have been doing.
Please have a look at my other postings, and please keep in touch.
John Dale, [email protected]
John Therrien Dale (September 9, 2012 at 5:51 PM)
I’ve been realizing lately…that maybe one of the existing languages aren’t going to be the universal language…
MAYBE SIGN language could fill the universal language??? Just a thought!!
Lorry (March 3, 2013 at 12:06 AM)
Many sign languages already exist. While it is not impossible that one could become a universal language, it seems exceedingly unlikely given that spoken languages (albeit sometimes combined with gestures) are very nearly universal among hearing people.
Ŝercisto (June 6, 2013 at 11:54 AM)
I think you are writing off Esperanto rather too quickly. Esperanto is indeed an international auxiliary language, in that it is spoken by people in a wide range of countries who have no other tongue in common. It is used by speakers of Hindi, Indonesian, Persian and Chinese, for example. It deserves to be more widely used. Take a look at:
With good wishes from Wales.
Bill Chapman (September 9, 2012 at 6:41 AM)
Bill, thanks for your comment and for the link. As I say, a deeply noble experiment that may yet work. In the limited research I’ve done on it, Esperanto seems to be heavily based in Latin, which leaves me to wonder if the rest of the world will view it as unduly Western-centric. I suppose every invented language needs to work from some historical basis, and the fact of English’s Westerness hasn’t seemed to deter the Chinese from wanting to learn it, so perhaps this concern is unfounded. Esperanto’s emphasis on verb regularity and standardization of spelling and phonetics is most desirable and, in my opinion, bound to occur within whatever language eventually prevails. Thanks again!
Avrel Seale (September 9, 2012 at 3:00 PM)
Dankon pro la retloko de tiu libreto pri Esperanto. Mi ne sciis pri ĝi, kaj ĝi estas bonega aldono al la literaturo.
Bonvole kontaktu min por ke ni kunlaboru!
John Therrien Dale (September 9, 2012 at 11:10 PM)
You need to make it clear that neither Baha’u’llah nor Abd’ul-Baha chose English or any other language to be the international auxiliary language. The fact remains that humanity is a long way off from being able to consciously and purposely choose a universal anything – that choice is going to come way in the future and there are many pressing and critical problems to overcome first! So although English looks to us today like the natural choice, even anticipating it evolution along the way, it’s important to recognize that we are still a long way off from that point of conscious choice. Personally I think the nuances of the Persian language illumine our understanding of the Writings hugely compared to even Shoghi Effendi’s translations and I would love to learn Persian properly given another lifetime. Also, English is very difficult to teach logically to both non-speakers and children (think: spelling for example) – it has an inordinate number of irregularities (probably due to its hybrid nature).
Rosita Niknafs (September 9, 2012 at 7:44 PM)
I agree that we are a long way off from selecting a single official international aŭiliary language. The French vigorously opposed and defeated Esperanto as an additional official language of the League of Nations. In the late 1930s, the techniques and technologies of simultaneous translation were invented, and after World War II, the political situation forced the adoption of five official languages at the UN, with Arabic being added as a sixth in the 1970s.
The UN is not about to lose political support by elevating English above the other languages. It will leave the question of a lingua franca up to the forces of politics and the market.
In this context, however, it is vitally important to note that Esperanto could be reducing the total time that it takes English-speakers to learn a foreign language and for non-English-speakers to learn English. There is no real competition between Esperanto and English, and in fact there is a synergism.
As I have written elsewhere and also in my own comments here, there are many immediate potential uses and advantages of Esperanto that we need to start taking advantage of in the Baha’i community. We should not always think of it in relation to the official adoption issue, which blinds us and disempowers us from taking action right now.
John Therrien Dale (September 9, 2012 at 11:23 PM)
Thought-provoking and well-considered article! I especially liked “I believe we will see an extension of what we already have: an organically changing version of English that constantly is being infused with words from other cultures that convey more specific meanings and subtle cultural origins.”
This ‘extension’ you foresee will, I believe, be far richer and more universal in its character than just a set of vocabulary extensions, as prolific as those are now becoming. In a discussion about English elsewhere, I stated my views this way:
“English isn’t simply a language. It’s a dragon-hoard, a construction kit, a global motley of musical instruments, a nightmare of overwhelmed meaning, a mausoleum of forgotten hegemonies.
Calling English a language implies that we can learn most of it. We can’t – we tap on keys, pour forth speech, and transform English all the while. Its most lofty forms haunt and mesmerize us, while its pidgins and creoles and overlays charm, amuse, enrage, and engage us. It’s a river pouring over, through, and within us all; we paddle in its backwaters hungering for meaning and resonance.”
An implication of this view is the intermingling not only of words and word-forms, but also of grammar, syntax, and semantics drawn from multiple languages. Speakers of Putonghua (the main Chinese form) transform English naturally into a much-abbreviated form which works pragmatically just as well as the English of native speakers; there are commonalities of grammar between the two languages that help with that simplification.
This crazy overgrowth we fertilize every day is becoming something altogether other than English – it is becoming another thing entirely. What we generate in our modern, global struggle for understanding will challenge all of us to expand our human capacities for mutual communication. What to call it does not matter – that’s akin to selecting one of the names of God over others.
We should soon see the Unicode universe engulf the Web, with all its scripts and symbols out there to feed our minds with potentials. We’ve already seen the compressions of texting abbreviations, smileys, icons, and all sorts of other transformations we throw into our streams of utterance. (Just this morning I reached into Cyrillic to offer a friend a new Ukrainian nickname, which she guessed immediately.)
Whatever the universal language will be, it will most certainly not be restricted to what we know now. It will serve all of us, and we will celebrate with it.
Dana Paxson (September 9, 2012 at 7:52 PM)
Thanks for this interesting post. An international auxiliary language (IAL) is, as we can see through the rise of global English, an organic need of humankind at this point in our evolution. It is happening, though, without the kind of deliberative process I understand Baha’u’llah to be prescribing. There are down sides to that, even as the need for a global second language is filled.
One benefit I see of choosing an IAL could be an environment in which mother tongues / first languages can thrive. Much as humanity needs some sort of IAL, I think we also still stand in need the diversity of expression, cultural and local technical knowledge, and ways of knowing that are interwoven with the multiplicity of languages we have inherited.
The Baha’i teachings about the IAL, in my understanding, are explicitly about communication and facilitating fellowship and unity, but they also has implications for equity, justice, learning, and how we manage knowledge.
Don Osborn (September 9, 2012 at 3:38 AM)
The Baha’i teachings on this subject are extremely interesting and deep. So deep, that any serious discussion ends up in the realm of interpretation, something that we avoid as Baha’is. Yet we MUST talk about it. Very few subjects have as much written about them in the Writings, and to my knowledge, no subject is flagged with urgency and importance as repeatedly. If the Writings had been delivered as a task list on a computer, then sorting by “priority” and “date due” would put the top IAL at the absolute top of the list, alone in it’s category. It’s truly that important. Don’t take my word for it: pull up Ocean and start searching for “language”, “Esperanto”, “tongue”, “script”, and the like. You’ll be amazed. The subject is so vast, multidimensional, and difficult to get a clear picture of! It is very much akin to those sculptures that only become comprehensible when viewed from exactly the right angle.
To compound the issue, pretty much everything the typical Baha’i “knows” about the IAL and Esperanto is wrong.
It cannot be briefly explained. So I’m not even going to try. But I will give a couple of hints that will help in studying the topic.
1. Shed your preconceptions about this topic. I mean it: this topic must be approached scientifically. You really need to use the scientific method. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_the_steps_in_the_scientific_method Otherwise, you probably won’t get far. This is where most Baha’is are stuck.
2. Understand that most of what is Written by Adbu’l-Baha and (particularly) Shoghi Effendi on the subject of Esperanto were written in response to pressure from misguided Esperantists, who were seeking to have Them make a decision that They were not Authorized to make. The Authorizaton to make that decision was placed explicitly upon the Universal House of Justice, and completely separately, upon the nations of the world. Keep that in mind, and much more will make sense.
3. It is important to note what is said on the subject, but equally important to note what is NOT said.
4. Use deductive reasoning. The answers are there if you ask the right questions. For instance, “Does English, in ANY form still recognizable as English, meet the criterion outlined by Abdu’l-Baha for the IAL?” Since the answer is no (spoiler! sorry, couldn’t resist), what languages CAN conceivably meet the criterion? (It’s a short list: there’s only one entry that is a “living language.” See below for why that is important.)
Now, from here on are my opinions on the subject:
Language and culture are inseparable. They are two halves of the same coin, part of the same mechanism. Language is the medium, culture is the transmission. A culture cannot exist without a language. A language cannot exist without a culture. When we say that a language is a “living language” or a “dead language,” what we really mean is that it is a language without culture. The fact that no one is using it is merely a byproduct. When a language dies, the culture dies, and vice versa. This is happening, right now, here in America to most of the Native American peoples. If a culture absorbs a language, it is irrevocably changed by it. If a language is absorbed by a culture, it is irrevocably changed by it. This is also evident when we look at the Native American cultures. It is a terrible lesson, but one that we must learn if we are going to preserve diversity in the world.
The language of the Baha’i Faith’s culture is NOT English; in my opinion English will NEVER be the language of the culture of the Baha’i Faith, and I say that as a native English speaker. English is specialized toward transmitting a culture of oppression. It’s like trying to transmit a square peg through a round hole. It simply isn’t a fit. Also, there is a round peg already firmly lodged in the hole; that culture of oppression! And it won’t be budged. Wherever English is taking over, another culture is in a state of oppression.
In my opinion, this is the main problem in transmitting the Baha’i Faith: the Baha’i culture does not have it’s own linguistic identity. We have merely latched on to the biggest predator language long enough to get our own language established, as remoras attach to sharks. It made perfect sense for the Universal House of Justice to choose English as a temporary working language, but because we mistakenly consider it our cultural language, English limits our potential quite severely. As long as we stay latched on to the predator, our culture will not learn to survive on our own.
The right language for the Baha’i Faith is the one which already has a closely matched culture: Esperanto. As our cultural language, Esperanto has been proscribed by Abdu’l-Baha (and this is affirmed by Shoghi Effendi), but in a way that allows the adoption to occur naturally. (Note: this has nothing to do with whether or not Esperanto becomes the international auxiliary language; that is a separate issue altogether. I’m referring to our adoption of Esperanto purely within the Baha’i community without regard to the IAL.)
So right now, transmitting the Baha’i culture suffers the same problem as talking on the moon: there is nothing but vacuum. There is no native transmission medium. Transmitting sound on the moon requires artificial means such as radio transceivers to leap the vaccuum. Think of English as the Baha’i Faith’s artificial transmission device. It simply isn’t a natural fit at all.
To go one step further with that metaphor, I’ve heard someone say that what we are trying to do as Baha’is in building the Baha’i culture is akin to building a rainbow. Who knew that water + light would result in something so beautiful? To which I respond: water and light alone are not enough to create that rainbow. If you spray a mist of water on the moon, you do not get a rainbow. There is no warmth, and nothing to support the particles. The particles instantly boil away into ice crystals due to lack of warmth, and plummet to the moon’s surface because there is no medium to suspend it. Rainbows also need air. Air is essential to the equation.
Likewise, our Baha’i culture rainbow cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs the warmth and support of a transmission medium, it’s own language, in order to take on a life of its own, and not be on “life support,” so to speak. There is a reference in the Writings to this, which says something along the lines of, No effort to establish the Most Great Peace can have any lasting success until the unity of languages has been established. I cannot find the exact Quote, though. If anyone does know where it is, let me know.
The point is, if you’ve ever wondered what was missing to make everything start gelling together and create that rainbow, now you know. Well, you know what I think, anyway. 😉
James Gilmore (September 9, 2012 at 1:39 PM)
This is the first of a series of postings containing portions of a pamphlet called “Global Children, Sustainable Futures” that I have written for the Baha’i Esperanto League USA in relation to Esperanto. Unfortunately, this blog site does not apparently allow me to highight the titles of the section or otherwise format the text properly, but hopefully the content will come through.
I would love to be in contact personally with the previous posters. You can reach me at [email protected].
Needed: Global-Hearted Children Mobilizing to Build Earth Community.
To solve the many problems now blocking a sustainable human future, we as forward-looking parents and teachers must “educate for Earth Community” and help our children sense, feel, think, communicate, and behave with full respect toward all human beings and indeed toward all of life. “Earth Community” must inform all our social and ecological relationships. Indeed, on this very generation of children, and on their success in righting the wrongs of the past, depends the fate of the Earth. Our children must embrace and radiate global good will. We must mobilize as never before in human history to correct the lethal problems that past generations have left unresolved.
A formidable barrier stands in our children’s way: a world with still no easy common language. This socio-linguistic deficit tears at the very fabric of Earth Community. It perpetuates “us versus them” attitudes that handicap good will and hamper the rapid social changes we need. Just when the children and youth of the United Nations most need a shared vision and a united global agenda, language barriers decrease their ability to have that vision and to act on that agenda.
Typical multilingualism is not a solution. The UN has 6 official languages, but even the world’s top 20 languages, based on native speakers, account for only 53 percent of humanity, and dozens of languages are nationally, multi-nationally, or internationally significant. (See ethnologue.com.) Learning even 20 major national languages fails to dissolve the global language barrier.
What about English? Precisely because it is so rich and irregular, English imposes a large learning burden, particularly on non-native speakers. Despite three hundred years of military, political, economic, and cultural dominance by English-speaking powers, only 21 percent of the world currently has had any formal training in English (Ethnologue.com). This means that 79 percent of humanity has had none.
These surprising percentages tell us, first, that language group identities are persistent and are to be respected; second, that we need a strategy based not on domination but on a feeling of genuine, heart-felt community. Domination violates such a spirit and also the global norms of the United Nations relating to non-discrimination and equal respect for all people and thus for all their languages.
Those who, by domination, put the costs of overcoming language barriers onto others, profit therefrom, perpetuate inequality, and seriously burden the rest of the world. (See, e.g., François Grin, Foreign Language Instruction as Public Policy.) “Let them learn English!” reflects self-centered and even arrogant power. It minimizes feelings of equality and respect for others. This is not the attitude that our children need to be feeling in themselves or to be seeing in others. In short, both because of its difficulty and because of how some people are using it, English is problematic, and, even now, for whatever reasons, 79 percent of humanity has not learned it. Nevertheless, English is an important lingua franca. What to do?
The inherent worth and dignity of each person’s language must be respected. This follows from the inherent worth and dignity of each person. The right of each person—including the child—to use his or her own native language, and an equality of respect for all languages, are values vital for our children to embody. Nevertheless, the purpose of language is to communicate, humans speak over 6900 living languages, and communication fails without a language in common. Earth Community thus requires not only respect for language diversity but also sensitive and sensible efforts to build language unity: an easy, equalizing, dignifying introductory second language for our children, a language of global good will to help them build a sustainable future.
Is there such a language? The instant “universal translator” is still science fiction. Given the problems with English, and given the need right now for an easy, introductory second language for this generation of children, is there some already existing language that we are overlooking, a potentially win-win, non-threatening language for teaching our children the values of ethical, social, and ecological sustainability? The answer must, obviously, be . . . .
Yes, Esperanto — A Proven Solution.
Since 1887, that is, for 125 years, Esperanto—a flexible language designed in advance for possible global usage—has proven successful for both children and adults, in both written and oral forms. Ethnologue.com lists between 500,000 and 2 million speakers—a miniature Earth Community of people already committed to the values we need for a peaceful, sustainable future.
Esperanto’s features make it easy to master, and it is fun both for kids to learn and for teachers to teach. With elements akin to both Indo-European and other language families, Esperanto is a stepping-stone to the whole wide world of languages and cultures and an ideal introduction to Earth Community values. At the same time, however, Esperanto helps children learn English or other foreign languages more easily and to speak them more fluently. Esperanto thus creates a non-adversarial, win-win relation with native languages and with English as an important second language for adults internationally and professionally.
John Therrien Dale (September 9, 2012 at 5:09 PM)
This is the third of three postings based on the pamphlet “Global Children, Sustainable Futures.”
John Dale, [email protected]
Last But Not Least: Esperanto Fuels Hope and Empowerment.
Esperanto and our inner world. Esperanto supports and nurtures the inner world of children because it is “the language of hope.” Its very name comes from the root word espero, meaning hope. Esperanto was in fact begun by a teenager over 125 years ago who hoped that homaranoj— Earth citizens—would use it to help themselves create harmony, and out of harmony, peace.
We must be realistic. This current generation of children is humanity’s last best hope for a viable future. We must equip our children for success in the global tasks ahead, including dealing with the enormous effects of climate change and global social issues such as excessive economic inequality, disease, war, negative ecological footprints, religious intolerance, and so on.
In front of the need for so much global cooperation, our children need hope that Earth Community, harmony, and sustainability are not just empty dreams. Esperanto is not just another language, but a very special language, a language with an internal idea. It taps into our fundamental goodness and feeds a sacred, holistic hope that our efforts will bear, eventually, a rich harvest. To speak and use Esperanto is inwardly to renew that hope with every word and breath. It is to commune with a positive future and to communicate ourselves and our children towards it.
In Essence . . .
Esperanto, ignored by the creators of our world’s problems, is a win-win, non-threatening language policy for nurturing “global children”—a policy you yourself can immediately begin to implement. At home, in schools, in religious education settings, you can begin through Esperanto to give children an additional hope and ability to build Earth Community and a sustainable future in a warm-hearted, inclusive, multilingual, multicultural spirit of “We the Peoples of the United Nations.”
John Therrien Dale (September 9, 2012 at 5:19 PM)
All the usual arguments appear here for one’s language of choice, especially Esperanto. Wouldn’t it make more sense if we all worked together on the problem of human communication, from all our global and local backgrounds, and came up with a single choice agreed on through worldwide consultation after thorough investigation? That will take a lot of time, but perhaps much less time than we might think, given our ability to exploit and apply the immense power of the global Internet.
For my part, I’m not ready to embrace or accept any proposal advanced so far, since I see no true awareness of the universal cognitive and learning advantages of any such proposal – and I include Esperanto in that observation. I believe that the underlying problem is one of awareness of the true frame of what we need to know, and of the fact that no ethnic, regional, or cultural subset of our world owns that frame.
What is easy and useful for a person having a background in languages that inspired Esperanto is not necessarily so for those whose minds and brains have been schooled throughout life in a completely-different linguistic pattern. On those people a language using Western patterns familiar to us might well pose a burden that can motivate them to reject such a standard. Any universal language we agree upon must have globally-balanced appeal. Gaining such appeal will take time, effort, and submission to the goal.
I’m a professional writer. It took me close to 70 years to learn one tributary of what people call English – good God, why would anyone want to impose even a fraction of that task on anyone else? I have no idea what to propose here, but one thing seems clear: if I see that everyone works it out together in consultative process, I will embrace whatever it might be.
Dana Paxson (September 9, 2012 at 1:37 PM)
Dear Baha’i friends
Nearly all Baha’is have access to Dr Esslemont’s classic, “Baha’u’llah and the New Era” (BNE) because the Master himself approved several of its chapters and the Guardian described the entire work as “splendid and comprehensive” and also arranged for its translation into many languages.
The question of an auxiliary language is vast and misunderstood too judging by the range and depth of comments on this Baha’i blog
For a balanced view addressing concerns from the Universal House of Justice, concerns which remain authoritative to this day, and to contemplate precisely what ‘Abdu’l-Baha said about Esperanto and opined about Dr Zamenhof, its founder, please refer to the 1998 edition on pages 163 to 165 or the 2006 edition on pages 180 to 183.
The vastness of the Faith and of the principle of a universal auxiliary language and its links to Divine Promises cited by John Dale in his communications on this Blog necessitate an independent investigation of the truth in order that we Baha’is bring about justice.
Paul Desailly (September 9, 2012 at 10:51 PM)
English is the aviation and maritime language. It is the language used by airplane pilots and ship captains in communicating with airports and harbors almost universally, and it has been since the aviation industry almost began. In many places road signs are in the national language plus English. It is the global language of business, science and technology. Watch CNN and you will see English everywhere. The good news is, we now have a universal language, and it is undoubtedly English. The Kingdom of God is here.
James Tate (September 9, 2012 at 2:19 PM)
I’m old enough to recall francophones eulogizing the euphonic French language in terms exceeding James’ love affair with English.
‘When the olympics come to your metropolis what you’ll first hear is our language. It’s the language of diplomats and aristocrats too. Even your Australian passport uses French. And every post office in the world accepts French.’ 100 years ago when the last emperor was dethroned Mandarin and Manchu were official thru-out Old Cathay. Guess how many professors can speak the latter today? As to the language fiasco in air travel, it’s so serious this inability to adequately communicate in English that many lives are lost due to misunderstandings. How’d you like to be travelling between the sub continent and Britain and the pilot has a Scottish brogue and the air traffic controller speaks with an Indian or Pakistani accent. All places cited have used English officially for centuries. Teaching English in China was a revelation. How about Japan where it’s been taught in schools across the country since 1945. Anecdotes abound as to international English majors travelling together. Without their teacher (i.e. me) to interpret their African English into Chinglish they remain incomprehensible to one another unless they pick up paper and pen. When the American empire sets how many foreigners will keep shelling out to learn the language of commerce ruling today? All empires set. The Baha’i holy writings assure America of immense leadership roles but only in regard to spiritual-moral leadership. ‘Citadel of Faith’ explains authorittatively what’s coming. Finally, the Univ House of Justice has made no special announcements in favour ofEnglish
Paul Desailly (September 9, 2012 at 10:53 PM)
[…] keen Esperantist. The goals of the Esperantists were in accord with the Bahá’í principle of an international auxiliary language to promote understanding and unity among diverse people. Martha spent many months living with […]
The Life of Martha Root | Baha'i Blog (October 10, 2012 at 12:35 AM)
I do not have a love affair with English. My love affair is with humanity, and being a pragmatist whatever works is fine with me. However, I have been listening to chit chat about Esperanto for as long as i have been a Bahai, which is now 55 years. Meanwhile in the real world my international experiences have shown me that English seems to be gaining the high ground, and allowing people to communicate with each other. That is the only concern I have. Having lived in countries as a pioneer in which I did not speak the language, I know fully well the difficulties and discords languages create and this includes within Bahai communities. As a well known Chinese leader once said, “I do not care what color the cat is as long as it catches the mouse.” Teaching English as a second language is a global growth industry, and as a Bahai I couldn’t be happier.
James Tate (October 10, 2012 at 1:12 PM)
That’s cool James
You’re not having a love affair with English
but you couldn’t be happier about teaching it
although the real success rate, as distinct from the hypocritically falsified pass rate in many exams, is not mentioned in your post,
One of the points of General, later Chairman, Deng Xiao Ping’s allusion to cats, as far as you seem to be saying in your comparison, is that at the end of the day the target language is coherently spoken by the students. This is not the case as many failures over many decades throughout the world attest except for a gifted or wealthy or relatively wealthy lot of young Chinese etc
What we as Baha’is are seeking is an easy to learn and easy to teach auxiliary language that even the poor in multitudes can take on board – without a teacher if necessary – i.e. truly universal
Actually, ironically, what that leader of Communist China was talking about was: ‘I don’t care how you make money, as long as you make it’
Money is the meanest of God’s gifts and I prefer to avoid the topic unless dragged into it forcibly
Like you though I need money and I’m happy too in one sense as an old guy that I’m still employed to teach my mother tongue (and Esperanto) abroad but English aint working for most of my victims.. Sorry, Freudian slip, students
Chit chat about Esperanto as distinct from scholarly talks is all you’ll continue to hear until the Baha’i world community understands the unique role of the fundamental principles – all of them (those) – in bringing about the triumph of the Cause which is not the same thing as attaining personal salvation by living the Baha’i life
No prizes for guessing whose moral courage and leadership is required to establish in the first instance a welcoming environment and platform to consult on the principle of a universal auxiliary language in a community split down linguistic lines for well nigh a century…
Paul Desailly (October 10, 2012 at 5:26 AM)
I have nothing but great admiration for any Bahia or for that matter anyone who is attempting to bring into reality the teachings of our Faith towards the betterment of the world and the tranquility of the people, as I believe we as Bahais have been specifically chartered to do. It is the “love” of money that is the root of all evil, not money. What the Chinese leader was referring to was not money, but prosperity. These are not the same things, and in my view creating prosperity and eliminating the debilitating effects of poverty, which I have witnessed first hand, also falls into what we have been instructed to do. I have spent my life as an architect and contractor, building homes, schools, and even manufacturing facilities in remote locations, where people were dirt poor. As a result of these experiences, I guess I view the benefit of having a universal auxiliary language as a tool to improve the quality of human life in probably more physical terms.
James Tate (October 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM)
Yes indeed James, you’re quite right in saying that prosperity can be a different matter to mere money.
And you’re posts are right again in showing that there are too few Baha’is. And your implied point that we must
try to work together more is right on the money too, if you’ll pardon my harking back to filthy lucre.
As with the Bible vis-a-vis ‘the love of money’ so with Baha’u’llah who calls for detachment
A few days ago the moderator or her-his automatic filtering system disallowed my main post for some reason unbeknown to me.
It’s not a long story but it includes several web addresses where one can down load gratis the Baha’i International
Community’s official statement on language delivered by a Baha’i counsellor in Beijing half a dozen years ago.
That plenepotentiary rep of the Faith in an honest and accurate depiction of the problems facing the Baha’i world community
vis-a-vis the language question spoke to an invited audience of specialists including a minister of the government of the PRC
Some additional free web sites addressing the language principle from a Baha’i perspective in works which have passed
the arduous requirements of Baha’i peer review are also available in my brief posting disallowed here recently
Should any Baha’i blog readers want to access those works please contact me separately or John Dale who is an American Baha’i
posting on this blog too
: [email protected] [email protected]
Paul Desailly (October 10, 2012 at 9:36 PM)
Hi Avrel – I met you in Texas but didn’t know about your blog. Just found it today when your Birth of Baha’u’llah article showed up on my daily Google search. Great stuff.
Hi John – I met you in correspondence during my brief love-fling with Esperanto many years ago. I won’t take the lead on Esperanto – but if Esperantists ever show up here, I’ll dust off my books and catch up enough to chitchat with them.
Hi everybody else –
I am living where there are two foreign languages needing learning – so I thought it was beyond me to learn both, so I just didn’t try…. until I read this article from Lifehacker. http://lifehacker.com/5903288/i-learned-to-speak-four-languages-in-a-few-years-heres-how?popular=true
Learning a language this way depends largely on using an “Anki” deck – which is a FREE app, that I was even able to download here in the land of very slow internet. Putting in 15-30 minutes a day is helping me make huge strides in my target language number 1 after just a few weeks. I feel confident I will be fluent enough for my purposes after about 9 months – and my goal is to start target language number 2 a month or two after that. I have learned a few other foreign languages (more or less) during my life – but I’ve never experienced such quick and accurate uptake ever – and I am working with brain cells that are past their shelf life.
Love to all –
Kim (November 11, 2012 at 6:34 AM)
As the UN representative for Esperanto at the United Nations-New York (We have representatives in several cities: Geneva, Vienna, Paris (Unesco)) I continue to reach our to the leaders of the Bahai International Community. I have met with Bani Dugal and Wendy Momen. I have made great efforts to have Bahai well represented at our major events on LANGAUGE RIGHTS, organized by Universal Esperanto Association, with several hundred participants from the diplomatic and NGO community. At the same time I have been in regular contact with numerous Bahai Esperanto speakers, some writing here. For those native English speakers fluent in Esperanto, we know the difference that Esperanto already offers. It is quality for now. Not quantity.
Neil Blonstein (June 6, 2013 at 1:08 AM)
DANKON kara Neil
We Baha’is owe you an upper case and double vote of thanks for your tireless efforts reaching out to our (and many other) leaders at the UN as to the beauty and effectiveness of an existing auxiliary language which as Abdu’l-Baha said would become universal to a certain degree and as he further explained, may indeed become the successful candidate in every school.and i m o even more importantly, he asked all Baha’is what ever their rank, what ever their language preference, to study and to spread Esperanto as far as possible irrespective of which language is ultimately chosen
I’d like to also add my personal vote of thanks on this open forum for the lovely photos you recently sent back from Haifa during the historic 7th Asian Congress of Esperanto. My dear friend Martha Heide Otto, who is the president of the 400 strong Baha’i Esperanto League, appeared delighted to meet and greet your group of Esperantists from abroad and to escort y’all thru the Terraces and the renowned gardens there
Rest assured that your efforts, so freely, kindly and also diplomatically given (‘quality for now’) will bear fruit for Abdu’l-Baha has additionally promised, point blank, that the love and effort put into Esperanto will not be lost. That many Baha’is over generations have ironically misinterpreted his follow up saying, uttered in London in the same extract about ‘no one person constructing a universal language’, as an allusion to Esperanto’s unsuitability in a universal auxiliary role has been finally put to rest once and for all in an irrefutable explanation vis-a-vis his last mentioned clause cited here. It’s only a question of time before influential Baha’is become aware of this century old misunderstanding as to Abdu’l Baha’s words along with other recently explained misunderstandings as to what initially looks like a put down of Esperanto from the pen of Shoghi Effendi in 1944.
You’ll be happy to hear, I’m sure, that not since the World Congress of Esperanto in Adelaide in 1997 and Haifa’s praise of Baha’i input therein have so many followers of Baha’u’llah responded to an institutional call put out under the auspices of the Regional Baha’i Council For Western And Central Australia ( a huge area in excess of one million square miles) to participate in La Vintra Kursaro scheduled to commence June 7 and to continue thru the long week end celebrating the Queen’s birth day and 60th jubilee as sovereign
Paul Desailly (June 6, 2013 at 11:18 PM)
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Alana Kroon (September 9, 2013 at 8:31 PM)
Great blog and powerfull comments.
Wow, Esperanto will be a real global language, but for the Baha’i community, and what comes out of English will be a worldly communication tool.
alonso soso (December 12, 2013 at 11:26 PM)
Great discussion. I think at the end of the day, it is the people of the world that will make the decision as it is ordained in the Bahai Teachings. At this time in point, everyone of us may have preferences or speculaitons as to which language that will become IAL, and I think that’s fine. And I’m suspecting the discussion could be going on for the next hundred years or more. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong in teaching and learning any language which will help to expediate the process. So now time to add my share of speculation/preference: what about Arabic? (I do not speak Arabic and as you can tell English is my second language). Many countries in the middle east and few countries in Africa speak Arabic. I believe it is a very rich language and has developed well as it was a language of Revelation (of Islam) as well as the Bahai Faith (of course toghether with Persian). I read somewhere that 1 in 5 people in the world is muslim, and Arabic is also extensively used to teach the Quran even among those who do not speak Arabic. Just a thought.
Tay (October 10, 2014 at 7:28 AM)
So profound and so expansive are the Baha’i texts vis-a-vis Arabic, not to mention several other languages cited positively therein, that your opinions on Arabic merit airing here and much further abroad within and beyond the Faith.
For example, just on Arabic:
“Today in Syria there are many religious sects, such as Orthodox, Mussulman, the Dorzi, Nestorians and so on. As they all speak Arabic they are considered as one; if you ask any one of them, he will say – I am an Arab, though in reality he is not. Some of them are Greeks, others are Jews etc. In short, there are many different nations and religions in the Orient that are united through the benefit of a common language. In the world of existence an international auxiliary language is the greatest bond to unite the people… Just as in the Orient a common language created common interests between the various nations, likewise, in this age a universal auxiliary language would unite all the people of the world. The purpose of my remarks is, that, in the world of humanity, the greatest influence which will work for unity and harmony among the nations is the teaching of a universal language. Every intelligent man will bear testimony to this and there is no further need of argument or evidence.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, [Public address ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris, 12 Feb 1913; published Chicago, Star of the West Vol 11 No 17 p 290 (outer Vol 6) 19 January 1921
Describing reward and punishment as the forces of Justice in the Tablet of Maqṣúd Bahá’u’lláh refers to Arabic as “the eloquent tongue”.
“Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Word of God mainly in Arabic and some also in Persian. While Bahá’u’lláh, in none of His Writings, states that His followers are required to learn these or another language He, however, praises especially the vastness, expressiveness, and eloquence of the Arabic language and remarks that no other language can match its vast possibilities. Of course, some Bahá’ís will study both of these languages in order to get direct access to the originals of their Holy Writings.”
(The Bahá’í View on World Language Problems, Bahá’í International Community, Beijing, 2004)
“It is beloved of God that all should speak in Arabic, which is the richest and vastest of all languages. Were anyone to be aware of the richness and vastness of this perspicuous tongue, he would choose it as a universal language of communication. The Persian tongue is a beautiful language, and in this Dispensation God hath chosen to speak in two languages: Arabic and Persian. However, Persian is not as rich as Arabic; in fact all the languages of the earth seem limited when compared to the Arabic language. What We have mentioned here is merely what is preferable. However, Our purpose is that the peoples of the earth should choose a universal language from amongst the languages spoken by all mankind. This is what God hath ordained, and this is what will benefit all mankind, did they but know.”
Bahá’u’lláh The Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Aspects of the Sublime, p 32. (*p74) (#pp12, 22-23)
Bear in mind a distinction between a universal auxiliary language and a universal language.
My initial appraisal of these next few lines in Mahmoud’s Diary (pp179,180) was dismissive in that on the language question in general in this large and virtually authoritative work ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is laconic and even mute vis-a-vis Arabic as a universal auxiliary language contender. (#p22) My mistake! In fact, he intimates that Bahá’u’lláh’s high esteem for Arabic (*p74) might largely go unheeded – definitely so as a universal language! – and that, as the last 99.5 years indicate, the greatest barrier to progress on the selection question itself, let alone to His promises linked to its utilization, is the paucity of true consultation on the coming of the universal language whose achievement we are assured ‘is the greatest virtue of the age.’(*pp1,155)
The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání
Chronicling `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America
Wednesday July 24th 1912
He [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] was invited later to the Golden Links Club [Boston Syrian community] where he was asked whether Arabic might become the universal language. He said that it would not. He was then asked about Esperanto. He replied:
‘A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter from New York to one of the promoters of Esperanto telling him that this language could become universal if a council of delegates chosen from among the nations and rulers were established which would discuss Esperanto and consider the means to promote it.’ (*p51) (#pp22,23) Crucially, it seems to me, the Esperanto community benefits greatly by inviting and accepting consensus on the selection question as decided by an impartial umpire.
Of interest to scholars, as recorded on page viii of Mahmoud’s Diary, the Universal House of Justice has noted in its letter of 30 April 1984 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States that it: “…attaches great importance to this work which, as you may know, is regarded as a reliable account of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels in the West and an authentic record of His utterances, whether in the form of formal talks, table talks or random oral statements.”
What the extract below implies about individuals unwilling to accept or to discuss what is ‘the greatest influence which will work for unity and harmony among the nations’ requires ‘no further need of argument or evidence’ – either.
“No doubt you are aware that in the past ages a common language shared by various nations created a spirit of interdependence and solidarity among them. For instance, one thousand three hundred years ago there were very many divergent nationalities in the Orient. There were Copts in Egypt, Syrians in Syria, Assyrians in Musel, Babylonians in Bagdad along the river Mesopotamia. There existed between these nations divergence of opinion and hatred, but as they were slowly brought near to one another, finding common interests, they made the Arabic language a common vehicle of speech among them. The study of this common language by all made them as one nation. We know very well today that the Assyrians are not Arabs, that the Copts, Syrians, Chaldeans and Egyptians are not Arabs. Each one of these nations belongs to its own sphere of nationality, but, as they all began to study the Arabic language, making it a vehicle of intercommunication, today, they are all considered as one. They are so united that it is impossible to break this indissoluble bond. Today in Syria there are many religious sects, such as Orthodox, Mussulman, the Dorzi, Nestorians and so on. As they all speak Arabic they are considered as one; if you ask any one of them, he will say – I am an Arab, though in reality he is not. Some of them are Greeks, others are Jews etc. In short, there are many different nations and religions in the Orient that are united through the benefit of a common language. In the world of existence an international auxiliary language is the greatest bond to unite the people… Just as in the Orient a common language created common interests between the various nations, likewise, in this age a universal auxiliary language would unite all the people of the world. The purpose of my remarks is, that, in the world of humanity, the greatest influence which will work for unity and harmony among the nations is the teaching of a universal language. Every intelligent man will bear testimony to this and there is no further need of argument or evidence.”
‘Abdu’l- Bahá at an Esperanto banquet, Hotel Moderne, Paris, France, 12 Feb 1913, SOW 1921, outer vol 6, p290. (*p75)
Next, to a group of Esperantists in Stuttgart just before World War 1 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaks about Arabic as a language of peace; he speaks in Persian, is translated into English and then into German for the benefit of the local audience. (No English text exists) Mult-faceta ironio!
“Aparta speco de unueco konsistas en la sameco de la lingvo. Ĝia efiko estas pli ampleksa. Ofte lingvo fariĝas la rimedo, unuigi diversajn naciojn kaj rasojn. Tion oni spertis precipe en la orientaj landoj. Ekzemple la egiptoj estis aparta nacio. Ankaŭ la asiroj fondis grandan regnon. La civilizacio de la kaldeanoj estis eminenta en la malnova kulturmondo. Unu lingvo fine superis la aliajn kaj unuigis la kaldeanojn, asirianojn kaj egiptanojn, ke ili eĉ forgesis siajn gentnomojn kaj unuiĝis. Hodiaŭ ili estas nomataj araboj. Kial? Ĉar la araba lingvo fariĝis reganta lingvo super la aliaj. Se ni hodiaŭ demandas egiptanon, al kia nacio li apartenas, li respondas: Mi estas arabo! Same ni trovus tion ĉe la kaldeanoj kaj asirianoj. Ili respondas: Ni estas araboj! Tio ĉi pruvas al ni, ke la lingvo estas kapabla, unuigi la popolojn… En la Oriento estas multaj Hebreoj, Kristanoj kaj Mahometanoj. Sed ĝis nun ne intermilitis la kristanaj araboj kaj mahometanaj araboj, ĉar ili povis interkompreniĝi; ili povas interŝanĝi reciproke siajn pensojn. Sed ĉiam interbatalis turkoj, bulgaroj kaj grekoj, ĉar ili neniam povis atingi la fundamenton de komuna lingvo.
La Nova Tago, vol.2. 1930/31 p. 17-20: and Germana Esperantisto number 5A, 1913.
“Diversities of language arose in a later age, in a land known as Babel. It was given the name Babel, because the term signifieth “the place where the confusion of tongues arose. Subsequently Syriac became prominent among the existing languages. The Sacred Scriptures of former times were revealed in that tongue. Later, Abraham, the Friend of God, appeared and shed upon the world the light of Divine Revelation. The language He spoke while He crossed the Jordan became known as Hebrew (‘Ibrani), which meaneth “the language of the crossing.” The Books of God and the Sacred Scriptures were then revealed in that tongue, and not until after a considerable lapse of time did Arabic become the language of Revelation. Witness, therefore, how numerous and far-reaching have been the changes in language, speech, and writing since the days of Adam. How much greater must have been the changes before Him! Our purpose in revealing these words is to show that the one true God hath, in His all-highest and transcendent station, ever been, and will everlastingly continue to be, exalted above the praise and conception of all else but Him. His creation hath ever existed, and the Manifestations of His Divine Glory and the Daysprings of eternal holiness have been sent down from time immemorial, and been commissioned to summon mankind to the one true God. That the names of some of them are forgotten and the records of their lives lost is to be attributed to the disturbances and changes that have overtaken the world.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh LXXXVII. p.172. BPT. 1969. Wilmette. (*pp94,95).
As you can see Tay, it’s deep in meaning and in word count and it’s a fundamental principle of our Faith. When for example did you last attend a discussion among Baha’is concerning this eternal principle?
Paul Desailly (October 10, 2014 at 9:13 PM)
Your admiration for Arabic is shared by Bahaú’llah Himself who described it as the richest and vastest of all languages
Paul Desailly (October 10, 2014 at 7:45 AM)
I do not stumble upon Baháʼí literature often but whenever I do, I am never disappointed. There is just something about their way of thinking that meshes with mine despite the fact that I was neither born into the faith nor am I religious.
I hope we have a universal language in the next 15-20 years that is spoken by the majority of people below the age of 35. It would really make communication easier and with improved communication we might be closer to solving our other problems as well.
Rohan Jolly (May 5, 2023 at 3:40 AM)