LANGX - An Introduction for Bahá'ís


The third Glad-Tidings

concerneth the study of divers languages. This decree hath formerly streamed forth from the Pen of the Most High: It behoveth the sovereigns of the world - may God assist them - or the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in schools throughout the world, and likewise one script. Thus the whole earth will come to be regarded as one country. Well is it with him who hearkeneth unto His Call and observeth that whereunto he is bidden by God, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.

                                                                              Bishárát Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh p 22


The sixth Ishraq

is union and concord amongst the children of men. From the beginning of time the light of unity hath shed its divine radiance upon the world, and the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another's writing and speech. In former Epistles We have enjoined upon the Trustees of the House of Justice either to choose one language from among those now existing or to adopt a new one, and in like manner to choose a common script, both of which should be taught in all the schools of the world.

                                                                        Ishráqát Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh   p 127


Bahá'u'lláh gives mankind a choice between an existing and a new language for the international auxiliary language (IAL). In reality these alternatives are not as different as one might think, since every prospective existing language has incorporated new words and constructions at various times during its history, and a new language would necessarily contain words and linguistic elements that have proved their worth in existing languages.

The existing language most favoured for the IAL role is English, though its official adoption is by no means the foregone conclusion that many English-speakers anticipate (please see the "Introduction" and/or the opening chapters of "Lango"). English also has a special status within the Bahá'í Faith, of course. For instance, we know that the Guardian translated a large portion of the Bahá'í Writings, as well as Nabil's Dawn-Breakers, into English, that the UHJ conducts most of its proceedings in the language, and that English has been the official language of global Bahá'í conventions such as the Official Opening of the Terraces in May 2001.

Until quite recently, a number of Bahá'ís in the West thought the "existing language" might be Arabic, based on Adib Taherzadeh's comments regarding Bahá'u'lláh's "Tablet of the International Auxiliary Language and Script":

 "In this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh praises the Arabic language for its expressiveness and eloquence, and remarks that no other language can match its vast possibilities. He further states that God would be pleased if all the peoples of the world were to speak the Arabic language. But he does not require humanity necessarily to adopt it as the international language; rather He leaves the choice to the appropriate institutions."

                                          Adib Taherzadeh The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Vol 4, p 160

However, the following quotation from "Mahmúd's Diary" - an authentic record of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's utterances - seems to have removed that possibility:

He was invited later to the Golden Circle Club 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.

                Golden Circle Club, Boston 24 July 1912 Mahmúd's Diary p 179 - 180

'Abdu'l-Bahá's advocacy of Esperanto is well-known, e.g.:

All through America I have encouraged the Bahá'ís to study Esperanto and to the extent of my ability I will strive in its spread and promotion.

           quoted by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, 18 Dec 1912    Star of the West, Vol 3, No 19

.....From such illustrations you will admit that the greatest thing in the world is to be able to make yourself understood by your friends and to understand them, and that there is no greater handicap in the world than not to be able to communicate your thoughts to others. But with an auxiliary language all these difficulties disappear.

Now, praise be to God, that language has been created - Esperanto. This is one of the special gifts of this luminous century, one of the most remarkable achievements of this great age.

His Holiness BAHA'O'LLAH many years ago wrote a book called "The Most Holy Book", one of the fundamental principles of which is the necessity of creating an International Language, and He explains the great good and advantage that will result from its use.

Now let us thank the Lord because the Esperanto language has been created. We have commanded all the Bahais in the Orient to study this language very carefully, and ere long it will be spread all over the East. I pray you, Esperantists and non-Esperantists, to work with zeal for the spread of this language, for it will hasten the coming of that day, that millennial day, foretold by prophets and seers, that day when, it is said, the wolf and the lamb shall drink from the same fountain, the lion and the deer shall feed in the same pasture. The meaning of this holy word is that hostile races, warring nations, differing religions, shall become united in the spirit of love.

I repeat, the most important thing in the world is the realization of an auxiliary international language. Oneness of language will transform mankind into one world, remove religious misunderstandings, and unite East and West in the spirit of brotherhood and love. Oneness of language will change this world from many families into one family. This auxiliary international language will gather the nations under one standard, as if the five continents of the world had become one, for then mutual interchange of thought will be possible for all. It will remove ignorance and superstition, since each child of whatever race or nation can pursue his studies in science and art, needing but two languages - his own and the International. The world of matter will become the expression of the world of mind. Then discoveries will be revealed, inventions will multiply, the sciences advance by leaps and bounds, the scientific culture of the earth will develop along broader lines. Then the nations will be enabled to utilize the latest and best thought, because expressed in the International Language.

If the International Language becomes a factor of the future, all the Eastern peoples will be enabled to acquaint themselves with the sciences of the West, and in turn the Western nations will become familiar with the thoughts and ideas of the East, thereby improving the condition of both. In short, with the establishment of this International Language the world of mankind will become another world and extraordinary will be the progress. It is our hope, then, that the language Esperanto will soon spread throughout the whole world, in order that all people may be able to live together in the spirit of friendship and love.

                    Edinburgh Esperanto Society 7 January 1913 Star of the West, Vol 4, No 2

.....Praise be to God, that Dr Zamenhof has created the Esperanto language. It has all the potential qualities of universal adoption. All of us must be grateful and thankful to him for his noble effort, for in this matter he has served his fellowmen well. He has constructed a language which will bestow divine benefits on all peoples. With untiring efforts and self-sacrifice on the part of its devotees it gives promise of universal acceptation. Therefore everyone of us must study this language and make every effort to spread it so that each day it may receive a wider recognition, be accepted by all nations and governments of the world and become a part of the curriculum in all the public schools. I hope that the business of the future conferences and congresses will be carried on in Esperanto. In the future two languages will be taught in the schools, one the native tongue, the other the international auxiliary language. Consider today how difficult is human communication. One may study 50 languages and yet travel through a country and still be at a loss. I, myself, know several of the Oriental languages, but know no Western tongue. Had this universal language pervaded the globe, I should have studied it and you would have been directly informed of my thoughts and I of yours and a special friendship would have been established between us.

Please send some teachers to Persia, if you can, so that they may teach Esperanto to the young people. I have written asking some of them to come here to study it.

I hope that it will be promulgated very rapidly - then the world of humanity will find eternal peace; all the nations will associate with one another like mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, and each individual member of the body politic will be fully informed of the thoughts of all.....

                      Paris Esperanto Society 12 February 1913 Star of the West, Vol 4, No 2

From such passages in the Writings, some have gained the impression that the only requirement is for Esperanto to be promoted. But a careful examination of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's utterances on this subject will show that He also required Esperanto to be revised, as He hinted to the Esperantists of Paris in the above quotation, and stated more explicitly elsewhere (my emphasis):

                                                              Paris, 13 November 1911   Paris Talks, p 156

 The problem, of course, is that Esperanto has never been fundamentally revised, or "perfected", as 'Abdu'l-Bahá required. In Chapter 5 of LANGO we offered some reasons for this serious omission. A declining prestige and influence in the world appears to have been the consequence. Moreover, it might seem that the force of Bahá'í encouragement to learn Esperanto has declined in tandem.

In the absence of a fundamental revision of Esperanto, LangX attempts to illustrate the qualities a constructed IAL might be expected to possess. Left deliberately unfinished, it exists solely for the purpose of criticism and discussion. There are many other IALs out there which are better in various ways, but a competition between IALs is really not the point. Now is surely the time for synthesis. As 'Abdu'l-Bahá may well have said in London (see below): "no one person can construct a Universal Language"; on the contrary, He asserted that the IAL must be "formed" or "selected" by an international committee:

Whether the said congress, committee or confederation will choose "one of the existing languages, or a new language made up of words from all the languages" is open to question. Many people still believe that English will be the chosen language, and not without reason: it is certainly the foremost auxiliary language in the world today, whether in terms of geographical spread or global influence. For instance, English has an official status in air and maritime telecommunications, a shared primacy with French as one of the two "working languages" at the United Nations, and the biggest role of any language at international scientific conferences and business conventions. Robert Craig and I examined the current position of English in the first four chapters of LANGO.

However, since the institution choosing the IAL is likely to be secular humanist, with corresponding tendencies towards "political correctness", and away from possible imputations of "élitism", "neo-colonialism" etc., there is every chance that it will choose neither English nor any other major existing language, but rather "a new language made up of words from all the languages". A well-known paragraph in 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London addresses the linguistic constitution of the latter alternative:

                                                                                                'Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p 94

'Abdu'l-Bahá in London has been referred to as "Pilgrim's Notes"; and since the Universal House of Justice has approved the Bahá'í Publishing Trust's statement that the translation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words cannot be verified, because the original is no longer available, this is fair comment. However, in view of this quotation's potential importance, it might also be borne in mind that the expression "Pilgrim's Notes" covers a spectrum of material from the dubious to the very probably authentic, and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London was published in 1912, well within 'Abdu'l-Bahá's lifetime, and was presumably the object of close attention, given that not much Bahá'í literature was then translated into English. Moreover, Lady Blomfield, the compiler of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London and Paris Talks, was an intimate friend of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His family, as testified by her book "The Chosen Highway". Did anyone object at the time that the text of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London was inauthentic in any way?

Also, there is the following extract from a letter by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, dated 17 December 1912:

This morning 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke about America and the probability of his return to that country. He said: "God willing! If I go to America another time I will go differently; but it is very difficult. This first trip was made with great exertion." As I was reading one of his addresses delivered in America, he said it would be well if all his addresses in that country could be printed in one or two volumes. At present, he declared, they are all scattered and not collected. He called attention to how quickly the Paris and London addresses delivered last year were printed; and this was done through one woman, Lady Blomfield. Some one mentioned the name of a prominent wealthy woman and he said: "One of these poor, sincere and honest women is more beloved by me than a thousand millionaires; just now this Lady Blomfield is dearer to me than all the queens of the world."

                                                                                           Star of the West, Vol 3, No 19


One problem with an unrevised Esperanto is that it is explicitly an auxiliary language: Esperanto was designed to be an adjunct to the various mother tongues, and remains so in concept. But Bahá'u'lláh makes it clear that the ultimate goal is for everyone to speak one rather than two languages:

The transition from two languages (i.e. the multitude of mother-tongues, each paired with the IAL), to a single global tongue for every person on Earth in the distant future, is the central theme of the World Language Program, LangX, The IAL Hierarchy etc.. Hopefully the errors and inadequacies of our approach will spark others to greater endeavours and insights.

                                                             from the Lawh-i-Maqsud, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 165

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