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Tower of Babel in reverse

Speaking of writers, Emile Cioran remarked, "On n' habite pas un pays mais une langue" - "One lives not in a country but in a language." It's a phrase pregnant with meaning because it indicates not only how a writer filters and shapes experience through the medium of language, but also how language itself determines what we perceive. For each language, through its vocabulary, structure and syntax, carves out a slightly different window on the world.

 

What does it mean, then, to live in a country or a community where the dominant language is not one's own? Where the subtleties and nuances of one's own thoughts find no ready echo in the languages spoken around one? And what happens to different languages when they collide and embrace? An enrichment? A diminution? Or the beginnings of something completely new?

In this sense Auroville, with its 35 different nationalities and many different tongues, is a huge laboratory for the study of how language changes and evolves.

Clearly language here, after a period of frontier minimalism in which everybody's vocabulary seemed to have shrunk to about 50 words, is on the move. From "romba thanks" to "C'est trop loose" there is plenty of evidence of mixed linguistic marriages. The question is whether these pidgin forms really represent a greater linguistic dynamism, or an erosion, a dilution of the qualities of the original languages. Or all of the above!

Mother stressed -particularly in relationship to French- that certain languages should not be allowed to die out because they embody unique qualities, qualities which are important for the development of humanity as a whole. But she also foresaw that out of the linguistic melting pot of Auroville a new language would evolve.

Probably we are still too young as a community for such a language to emerge.

But what a hope! Think of a future Aurovilian language which can draw upon the imaginative and expressive range of high Tamil, the precision of French, the suppleness of English and the profundity of Sanskrit-to say nothing of all the other flavors represented here. C'est far out!

Extracted from an article in Auroville Today #120, January '99

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