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In Defiance of Babel: the Quest for a Universal Language

ENGL 705.401
also offered as: COML526
M 2-5

The course explores the historical trajectory from antiquity to the present day of the idea of discovering or creating an ideal universal language as a medium for explaining the essence of human experience and a means for universal communication.

The possibility of universal communication has been as vital and thought-provoking a question throughout the history of humanity as it is at the present. Particularly, the idea that the language spoken in the Garden of Eden was a language which perfectly expressed the essence of all possible objects and concepts has occupied the minds of scholars for at least two millennia. In defiance of the myth of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages, there have been numerous attempts to overcome divine punishment and discover the path back to harmonious existence. For theologians, the possibility of recovering or recreating a universal language would allow direct experience of the divinity, for philosophers it would enable apprehension of the laws of nature, for mystic-cabalists it would offer access to hidden knowledge. Today, this idea still continues to provoke scholars and it echoes in the modern theories of universal grammar and underlying linguistic structures, as well as in various attempts to create artificial languages, starting with Esperanto and ending with a language for cosmic intercourse.

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