Walk down the main street in many towns in the UK and you'll hear a variety of different languages spoken:Polish, Portuguese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian and, especially in the tourist season, French, German, Dutch and Spanish. These languages are barriers between nations and cultures, even within communities, which are difficult to overcome.
In a conference with each speaker using a different language, the need to provide simultaneous translation highlights this problem. For any number of different languages greater than three, the number of translators exceeds the number of speakers.
1 language – 0 translators, 2 languages – 1 translator, 3 languages – 3 translators but then for 4 languages – 6 translators, 5 languages – 10 translators, and for 10 languages – 45 translators.
For the mathematically inclined, the number of translators for x languages is x(x-1)/2. As organisations diversify their membership, so translating has become a flourishing growth industry.
It was not always so.
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood. And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. [Genesis 10:32 - 11:1]
Building the tower of Babel [Genesis 11:4] was an act of defiance and rebellion, interrupted dramatically.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. [Genesis 11:6-9]
As a temporary remedy to facilitate the spread of the Gospel, God provided a miraculous simultaneous translation service...
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? [Acts 2:1-8]
That this would not last was foretold.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
[1 Corinthians 13:8]
But we should not abandon hope of an end to confusion. The present situation will not last for ever.
Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. [Zephaniah 3:8-9]
This situation is yet future, awaiting the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, reigning from Jerusalem, having subdued the nations.
Hear a public talk on the confusion of languages, Sunday 22 December in Bury St Edmunds - Details here.