Quick! The moody Old Man is coming!

There are two fascinating articles about languages in today’s Economist magazine (here and here). One is a review of a book on translation. The other is about linguistics. An important part of my professional life is spent in dealing with languages in one way or another: interpretation, interpreters, meeting rooms with interpreters’ booths, translation, translators, offices for translators, salaries for translators, software for translators, buildings with meeting rooms for interpretation and offices for translators, budgets to cover all of this… That is an observation, and not a complaint, for languages, and the cultures that stand behind them, are what give the European Union its richness and diversity, and the EESC is an advisory body composed precisely of representatives of that richness and diversity. As always, the articles provide some fascinating facts. New Guinea is the place with the largest number of different spoken languages – 830. But guess which place is second? New York! There are an estimated 800 languages spoken in New York, though many are close to extinction. Altogether, there are some 7,000 languages in the world, but they are thought to be dying out at a rate of one a fortnight. Presumably, that rate will decline but still, sadly, the thought occurs to me that we are returning to Babel. Those familiar with the story will know that the ruthless, jealous, moody God of the Old Testament cast mankind into different languages in order to create confusion and hence stop man building a tower to heaven (which he otherwise seemed on his way to doing). But by giving man languages, the OT God also gave man cultures. As languages disappear, so do cultures. Can we expect building work to recommence soon on the plain of Shinar?