Speaking in Tongues... Reflections in Budapest
Laying in bed, in a trippy little design hotel located right on the banks of the Danube River, waiting for my cell phone to charge up a bit, before heading out for photographs.
A flurry of thoughts are going through my mind as I prepare to walk around this new city...
It's great to be in a brand new location. Much of Europe has become a bit of "old hat." It's always wonderful and exciting, just as any of you who live in tourist destinations in the USA have your own reasons for living there validated when you have guests come into town and take them around to see the sights. But a new place, with a language completely foreign to me, is a needed experience.
Language... a good friend of mine loves to tag me on posts from that insane website, Answers in Genesis. The cheap marriage of morsels of science and history to back up the ramblings of desert men from the Bronze Age is quite bewildering to me. Instead of benefitting from the vantage point of today and so much more awareness and understanding, this website seeks to view the entire world through the tiny prism of an ancient religion - written by people to explain things that they couldn't even begin to understand.
The last post I got tagged in was about the Tower of Babel - and how God's actions led to the many languages on our planet today. So many intellectually illiterate people waxed poetic about how God changed the world to punish man... and one even tried to lecture me after I commented, stating that science knew nothing about language - as though "science" is some sort of religious platform to be placed in comparison with his faith. "Yes, my friend. There is this thing called 'linguistics.' It is the science of understanding languages."
I know there are plenty of Christians who embrace science and still find meaning and truth in the words of Christ, and they look more objectively on much of the Old Testament (who avoids pork or stones adulterers these days, right?) I remember leaving seminary, and my brain was SCREAMING for truth... I picked up this book at a bookstore while in seminary, but I started reading it when I walked away from my studies and my faith.
I never knew how timely it would be, for in a sea of confusion about so much else, I had finally come to grips with the truth about theology... and likely the reason I had put off going to seminary for so long, too.
The book was Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" - a superb "owner's manual" on the human experience... how we are similar to the rest of the animal kingdom - and where we clearly differ - and how we evolved with our own particular stamp on those basic animal needs/interactions: communication, mating, and such. His chapter on language was incredibly illuminating. As a student of French and German, with obvious fluency in that great mother tongue of English, I've become rather fascinated with English - and how words from the Germanic and the Romantic families have joined the ranks. Spanish has become much easier to understand because of its similarities with French. The word "door," for example, is of German origin. "Tur"... The French word is "porte" - but English has many words that denote doorway or opening... porthole, port, portal.
Diamond went on to explain that the foundation of the overwhelming majority of Indo-European languages came from the horsemen of the Central Asian steppes... the evidence being in how the words related to the horse remained similar among all of the subsequent languages. It blew my mind!
English is the Catholic church of language... it has always borrowed and stolen from cultures where it travels, and I get great pleasure out of looking up the etymology of random English words and learning of their origins...
Diamond brilliantly explains how Indo-European languages come from the same base family, and when you look at charts of basic counting numbers or key words like father, mother, brother, and sister, you see this very readily.
So what does this have to do with Hungary?
Hungarian and Finnish are the only two languages that are not at all in this Proto-Indo-European family of languages... In other words, I can find ZERO connection to these words. And god knows my brain will kill itself trying to find the links. It simply won't happen...
They evolved COMPLETELY independently from the Latin and slavic families of language... It's like driving a car with a steering mechanism that is not a wheel... and hand levers instead of a gas and brake pedal.
Our taxi driver was an encyclopedia of information about Hungary and its history, talking about the wars, the changes in the country from outside pressures, and the once dominating position Hungary had on Central Europe.
He made a comment that caused us all to pause and reflect:
"You are lucky! Everyone speak English here... You have a great language. Everyone know English... the radio, the television... so much in English!"
We were listening to song after song of American hits on his radio as we drove to our hotel... He didn't need to furnish examples to make his point.
Ah, the strong arm of the English empire... bringing its language, along with its power, to shores all over the planet: India, Pakistan, Australia, North America, Africa...
Indeed, we have it good as English speakers.
So good that most don't know another tongue at all - and thus miss out on the many interesting links between English, Dutch, German, French, and a host of Scandinavian/Celtic tongues... because they only know one vocabulary.
It is much the same with history, religion, and politics. If you only know one experience, one association, one pathway... then you can't see the similarities and beauty of other approaches, because your brain has no healthy vantage point. It is foreign. It is "weird." And it is usually detested. The word and theory of "socialism" is a perfect example.
So thanks for the tag on the nutter website about God spreading all of the languages across the globe, Doug. If any of those well-meaning historical/linguistic illiterates knew anything outside of their little bubbles, they'd realize that it was just an old fable to make sense of things that other Bronze Age people didn't know much about either. It fit quite nicely into today's little language lesson and reflection on history and my current geographical position.
I'm off to walk the streets alone and marvel at a true gem of a city... and have my brain bombarded with words it will continue to try and collate and order into some Western fashion...
to no avail.