The Language That Survived the Tower of Babel

by Malory Columbretis

From the webcomic 'Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Time ans Space'

From the webcomic ‘Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Time and Space’

I am 100% sure that there are more people familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel than those who recognize Noam Chomsky. The story of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the most popular theory about evolutionary linguistics. According to the Book of Genesis, the whole world used to have one language. However, the people, in their arrogance, decided to build a tower that would reach the Heavens. God was enraged, and confused their language so the people would not understand each other, leading to the halt of the building of the tower. It is true that the world is now home to many languages, but does that really hinder us from communicating with each other? Is there no universal language that we can all understand without being taught? The best thing I learned from my professor in Psycholinguistics was the revelation of the existence of a Universal Language.

So what is this Universal Language? I remember my professor asking exactly that, to which I jokingly answered ‘love’. Looking back, I now realize that love cannot be a language because it is a concept that needs expression and not the means for expression. When the laughter that my answer brought to my classmates died down, our professor patiently replied that the Universal Language is music. I was about to contest–what about art? Then I held my tongue upon realizing that the perception of art is influenced by culture and, thus, varies from person to person. On the other hand, music is not so. The emotions music make us feel is the same for everyone. Jazz music, for example, makes us feel relaxed and sensual whereas rock makes us feel a strongly-burning passion. Words are not necessary for music to communicate–instrumentals tell stories, such as this song below.

As language, music serves many purposes. Music does not only reflect the mood of the listener, it also influences the mood. When sad, people may choose to listen to happy songs to alleviate their sadness. This reminds me of something I encountered that says you know you are in love when all the songs make sense. Music can also serve as channel for

A black metal fan.

A black metal fan.

one’s emotions. I, for one, treat music as such. For example, I listen to metal to channel my rage because it seems to me that metal music expresses my rage for me, leaving me no need to physically express my rage. To some, music is a form of meditation too, thus music is an aid to intrapersonal communication. However, I do not believe that music can also be a basis to judge people. I have encountered people who judge others by their tastes in music, and their judgment were wrong most of the time. For example, many people hate Justin Bieber and his fans, but most of the Justin Bieber fans I have met are nice. The stigma attached to people like me who enjoy metal also have no basis since metal fans–not the ones with the 0-4 buttons–are among the most courteous people I have met. [We’re talking about Linguistics, why not insert a pun?]

Music, specifically ones with lyrics, are also like oral communication. There are times when the tune does not match the lyrics as there are times when one’s tone does not match what one is saying. As my father noted about ‘Dust In the Wind’ by Kansas, the lyrics are so pessimistic and gloomy but the tune is not. There was a separation between the tune and the words, both seemingly expressing different emotions. However, I answered my father that the harmony between the tune and the words was able to capture the sense of the song. I told him that maybe the song is such because it is actually meant to strike thought and deep reflection among the listeners. Since the song is about the senselessness of life–borderline Nihilism if you ask me–it could be that the composer/s wished for the listeners to take a moment to contemplate their lives. This is where music ceases being a language that we all understand, and begins to be art that needs to be examined. What a fascinating thing music is!

I wonder if God overlooked music when He punished the builders of Babel or if He merely spared music out of mercy, but it sure took thousands of years and tomes of theories for humans to prove that music is the Universal Language. I believe music as universal language is something we can all agree upon. I have even read that in case of encounters with extraterrestrial life, space probes were loaded with images that portray life on Earth, recordings of messages in different languages, and music that range from classics to modern and contemporary. This may just be the ultimate test of the universality of what we humans dubbed as the Universal Language. For now, let us settle with the fact that music is one of the greatest means for human communication.