“One Step from Babel to Pentecost”

Robert A. Yelle

in The Language of Disenchantment

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199924998
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980444 | DOI:

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

“One Step from Babel to Pentecost”

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Chapter 3 describes colonial efforts to purify Indian languages by substituting for their diversity of scripts and modes of spelling a single, uniform system of transliteration based on the Roman alphabet. Often understood as a first step toward the creation of a universal language, or toward the elevation of English to this role, proposals for Roman transliteration were deeply influenced by seventeenth-century projects for a universal language or manner of writing. Like these earlier projects, Roman transliteration in the Indian context was seen by some as a means of reversing the curse of Babel that resulted in the diversity of languages, and of reprising the miracle of Pentecost, at which the Apostles were able to communicate the Gospel in all tongues. The idea of a universal language often expressed the desire for a universal religion based on Christian monotheism, and for the defeat of polytheism that colonialists explained as a result of linguistic diversity and ambiguity.

Keywords: codification; universal language; real character; John Wilkins; translation; transliteration; printing; anglicization; monotheism; Babel

Chapter.  13343 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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