I’ve spent the past two days convening the first-ever Language-on-the-Move workshop at the University of Tehran. The idea was to explore language contact and multilingualism in the 21st century, and I learnt as much as the students did. Apart from gaining new insights into multilingualism, language learning and intercultural communication in Iran, I learnt that the fundamentally negative view of linguistic diversity in the Judeo-Christian tradition is not shared by the Quran.
I had brought up the enduring influence of the Tower of Babel myth. Genesis 11 describes multilingualism as divine punishment for human hubris. I had assumed that all the People of the Book shared this negative view of multilingualism. How wrong I was! It turns out that Surah 30:22 actually lists linguistic diversity as one of the signs of God:
And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know.
I’m happy to share this wisdom of the Muslim faith as a Christmas message here on Language-on-the-Move: diversity is divine!