Catalina Isaza-Cantor – Colombia, India
The author resides and works at Adyar
[Note from the editor: this article is based on Catalina’s talk “The Language of the Future”, which she gave during a Zoom meeting organized by the United Lodge of Theosophists in San Diego on September 9, 2023.]
When I started to prepare my presentation, my first step was to do some introspection and try to visualize what or how the language of the future might be. While this question can be answered from many perspectives, I feel that the fact that we are in a theosophical circle, where the common goal is the creation of a nucleus of universal brotherhood/kinship, the approach from unity, fraternity, is fundamental when thinking about a language of the future or for the future.
So, we can think of the language of the future as the one that leads us to that fraternity, or that makes it possible, or that is a product of it, or all of the above at the same time. And if we examine a little the history of modern civilization, we see that since the seventeenth century there have been several attempts to create what has been called an international language, a universal language, with the aim of enabling common communication and understanding.
For example, one of the first attempts in the West to create an international language to communicate across borders was made in 1661 with the creation of the ‘Art of Signs’: a 'philosophical' or 'universal' language. Another attempt was made in 1668 with the aim of replacing Latin, which by then had been the international language of Western European scholars for 1000 years, and was called 'Royal Character'. During that century there were a few more attempts, but none succeeded because probably the ground for such languages had not been prepared.
Later, in 1879 Volapük ('World Speech'), became very fashionable, and in its tenth year of existence about a million people were using it. At its third congress in 1889, held in Paris, everyone was speaking it, even the waiters in the local restaurants. After this triumph, it began to decline rapidly, particularly because of internal disagreements. That shows us that the ground was not yet ready for this kind of language. Undertaking the search for a universal, manmade and perfect language was a very popular goal in the 17th century. This had to do with the fact that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the linguistic unity of Europe broke down. Not only did "national literature" begin to appear as a product of national languages, but Europe itself encountered nations whose languages had no kinship with Latin, such as those of indigenous tribes in the Americas or those of the Chinese empire. The more the frontiers became wider, the more these types of attempts were there, in order to make people understand each other.
Perhaps the most recent and one of the best known languages is Esperanto, established in 1907. Esperanto currently has about 200,000 speakers. Throughout history we see official and common languages of empires and eras, such as Latin in the Roman Empire, French as the language of an elite and with clear socio-cultural connotations, and today, English. Google has been working for years on a simultaneous translation project, like the Tower of Babel 2.0. Its applications are enormous, both professionally and for leisure.
There may have been other attempts to create a universal language. Many of these languages have become important due to commercial, cultural, and other issues. We try to reduce language barriers by becoming more involved in the cultures and traditions of other regions. But can such integration make them truly global? Well, after looking at some of the aforementioned attempts and seeing that they have not prospered as one would have hoped, it is worth asking why they have failed. We know that a language is linked to a culture. A language tells the history of the people and maybe, we could say that this is a challenge in the creation of a common language. Some people may feel their identity was lost or vanished when trying to communicate in a language that has been manmade. Could it have to do with some inherent human condition? Perhaps it is because they do not really include all possible languages and, therefore, all possible speakers? Could it have to do with the intention with which they were created? Many experts point to the difficulty of creating one. Experiments such as Esperanto and other newly created languages do not seem to have any prospect of success on a global scale.
Let us examine the following. Underlying the creation of this "universal language" is the need to transcend differences, separations and create some sense of community, for mutual benefit, for stepping forward to facilitate communication. Perhaps this is because, deep within us, we are aware of that common essence that we share. At this point, if we are talking about the language of the future, it is important to understand what it is that that we share, what it is that makes us one. Many of the options are based on an eminently rational proposal that starts from the belief that the universal tie among human beings is reason and, therefore, the construction of languages should be governed by rational patterns in the same way that a figure is constructed geometrically.
And while indeed, as mentioned in The Secret Doctrine, "Language is certainly coetaneous with reason, it could never have developed before man became one with the constituent principles in him, which fructified, awakened and vivified the dormant manasic element in primitive man” (SD, Vol. II). So, if we look at it from a broader perspective, as Theosophy shows us, we know that man and the universe have a septenary nature. The rational, more related to the lower mental plane, is but a minor component of what we are. Its functioning depends upon the unification of all principles. Moreover, in most cases, this lower mental element (so far the only focus of created international languages), instead of uniting us what it does is to separate us, because we identify so much with our ideas and opinions that we end up creating more conflict and misunderstandings than union and common communication.
It is fundamental, then, to understand the human being as a being of multiple dimensions that is directly connected with the Divine and with everything that inhabits the planet. As I mentioned at the beginning, I believe that having in mind that there is a siblinghood, that there is something divine in us, that drinks from an eternal and immutable source, is the key to think about any kind of language of the future. It is in the light of that unity that I think we should think about the language of the future.
Besides that, as students of Theosophy, we know the immense power that language has for creation. The language we use is vibration and symbol. The word has a creative power and depending on what quality, intention and nature it is, we are creating our reality. Let us remember what HPB mentions:
The spoken word has a potency unknown to, unsuspected and disbelieved in, by the modern "sages" [and] such or another vibration in the air is sure to awaken corresponding powers, union with which produces good or bad results, as the case may be (SD, V1, p. 307).
For the Sound generates, or brings together by attraction, the elements which produce a molecule of ozone, the making of which is beyond chemistry, but within the limits of Alchemy. (SD, VI. p.555)
Speech is an imitation or reflection of a divine power that is within us all. It is highly regarded in the world's Scriptures. In the Bible, the first words of John's Gospel state that "In the beginning was the Word," perhaps in the sense of the sound that awakens all things into existence. If, as The Secret Doctrine shows, with the sounds we use we can move pyramids, it is not unreasonable to think that if we understand the language of the future as that which leads us to that fraternity, which accounts for it, which is a product of it, or all of it at the same time. Thinking a little more deeply about this divine gift of the word could lead us to be more aware of the way we use it.
"To pronounce a word is to evoke a thought and make it present: the magnetic potency of human speech is the beginning of all manifestation in the occult world," says HPB, (SD (V1, p. 93). This has to do with the ability of speech to magnetize and attract. That is why it is fundamental to use the word with wisdom not only in moments that we would call sacred, such as at spiritual or religious gatherings but, more importantly, in everyday life, because it is from it that our day-to-day life, our reality, originates.
It is important to be aware not only of the way we use language but also of what we say. There are some theories that point out that one of the sources of evolution of communication and language is gossip, because it refers to everyday, basic and instinctive issues of human beings. Whether this is true or not has not been completely proven. Let us suppose that it is true; these are elements of our lower vehicles, of the densest part of our being, since they are loaded with criticism, perhaps with bad intentions. If we take into account that the way we communicate directly affects our reality, it is worth asking ourselves if gossip, for example, is creating a positive and truthful atmosphere. Perhaps many of us agree that the world we live in is not yet the ideal in terms of fraternity, equality, and compassion. Well, that is why we must be very careful with what we say when we speak, and even more, with the quality of our thinking in our daily life because in the present, we are building the future.
In this order of ideas, a language of the future should have, without a doubt, characteristics such as: truthfulness, kindness and beauty. It should be wise, conscious and harmless (ahimsa), positive, respectful and assertive, effective with precision, to the point and not using unnecessary energy, or excessively verbose. There should be coherence between the thought, the speech and the action. The language should be able to express that coherence.
It is also important to remember that what we say and how we see and think about the world has to do with what we see and absorb from it. The two are intimately related. The materials we feed ourselves with also create the bodies and the reality we inhabit. Whether it is the physical, emotional or mental body, we must feed ourselves with the best food possible. The things we say are important, but we also need to pay attention to the things we hear. Unfortunately, we are not surrounded by a lot of visual and auditory stimuli that convey uplifting, beautiful, good things. It is said that the caliber of a civilization can be measured by the way it uses words, and there are many songs, television programs, that make low use of language.
All these vibrations, although many people are not at all aware of it, are affecting us. Let us remember that from the theosophical point of view space is not empty, it is âkâsa. HPB refers to the living atoms of âkâsa as "elementals". Although they exist at a rudimentary level of consciousness, they are powerfully energized by the power of human thought. The mind of every person is a powerhouse of these thought forms in the field of elementals. Every time we have a thought, we attract the corresponding kinds of elementals into our subtle bodies. Whenever we interact from the place of truth, beauty and kindness, compassion, wisdom and love, from the qualities of our higher nature, we attract higher elementals. And when we interact from the place of selfishness, personality and instincts, in short, the lower quaternary, we attract elementals of a similar nature.
So, since through our language and thought we are agents of change, it is important that we are aware of ourselves and our process of self-transformation. Since we are part of the web of one life, any change at a global level has to start from individual work. In this meditation and self-inquiry are fundamental elements, along with mindfulness. We are co-creators of the world thanks to and through language. Mindfulness, instant by instant, is therefore a fundamental ingredient in what would be the language of the future. We can only think “the future” from the total experience in the eternal present, because this is what builds it.
In Theosophy we are shown that, as everything evolves towards the encounter with the source and as it gets closer to that Universal Consciousness, the forms adapt themselves to be able to provide a better service to the form of consciousness of which they are the physical vehicle. Since we are carriers of language, and it is its use that differentiates us from other animal species and makes us beings of a social nature, it is important that we set in motion this evolution in ourselves, this scientific building of character that spiritual practice helps us to carry out in our lives, as well as the building of a language for the future.
As part of that evolution, it is worth asking ourselves if the language or the channel we use (the voice) to communicate as part of that language of the future should also be transformed. From a material point of view, there is a lot of talk about communication and language from the perspective of technology. Some say that the language of the future will be programming. For those who are not familiar, computer programming is the art of the process by which the source code of computer programs is cleaned, coded, traced and protected. In other words, it is telling the computer what to do. Programming is more like language than mathematics. Breaking a problem into small, communicable parts is similar to interacting with a person. You need to identify how you want to express yourself, figure out how to convey the message clearly, and then execute it in an organized way. It is said that, as a universal language, in the future programming will be able to break any linguistic barrier so that there can be collaboration and propagation of ideas with anyone, anywhere and that is why it is thought to be the tool to unite us in the future. In addition, learning to program implies thinking from the point of view of effective communication, since it is necessary to think carefully before communicating. Effectiveness is clearly a characteristic of the language of the future.
From the material and technological point of view, there are those who also mention emojis as a possible universal language that is contributing to communication. They are even mentioned as a kind of Esperanto of our time. Nowadays we can transmit emotions, sensations or feelings with the use of some of these symbols. But is it from programming which makes new applications or conversational robots work, which allows us to continue to post on Instagram or Facebook and "communicate" to the world what we are doing? Do we have the possibility to make universal fraternity something vivid? Or, on the contrary, are all these new tools that materially and mundanely facilitate communication contribute in isolating us as a society, moving us away from face-to-face interaction and turning us into secluded individuals in a capsule formed behind a screen?
I do not mean to say that technology does not provide us with wonderful opportunities to shorten distances and times. However, from a more profound point of view in terms of awareness, I feel that internally we are not prepared to take the best advantage of all these technological facilities. That is why I think that these tools do not constitute a real step towards what would be the language of the future.
A step could be taken if we move into the realm of the perennial in us. As already mentioned, the language of the future is intimately related to the idea of unity and kinship. This would make us think that it is fundamental that it has common characteristics and that everyone has access to it, for this is something that would endow us with a transforming power. As the biblical story of the tower of Babel shows, all peoples spoke the same language. Their linguistic unity enabled them to collaborate effectively and endowed them with immense power. However, the story shows us that when God observed that they were building a great tower, so high that it reached to the sky, He realized that they were immensely powerful because of their ability to communicate and so, before the tower was finished, God made them all speak different languages.
That story makes me think of two things: 1. The potential of humanity to achieve anything when it is united and in consonance, when it communicates through the same language. 2. That when the ego prevails, separateness increases, for until we are aware that what really unites us must be used for the common good and not for the enhancement of ego and power, the gift of the common language will not be returned to us.
Then, as theosophists, it is fundamental to turn to the broader perspective of the spiritual point of view and the Divine Plan that is evolution. In this sense we would have that, at a time when universal brotherhood is a true fact, the use of sound, of the voice as a channel of communication may no longer be necessary. So, it is worth asking whether the language of the future must necessarily occur through the use of language, of symbols, of the spoken word or whether, instead, it could be a type of language that does not involve visible or audible communication in terms of the lower vehicles but is expressed more through the transmission of thought waves. The communication of the future could thus be telepathic in nature.
If so, on the one hand, we may no longer need languages and it would no longer be necessary to try to create international languages. At a time when humanity makes an evolutionary leap towards one of the future races, the languages currently used by our present race will not be necessary, because there will be a form of communication that will be heart-to-heart, soul to soul. We will have reached as humanity a state of greater compenetration and closeness with the elements of our higher triad.
To conceive a language of the future within the context of the spiritual vision and the Divine Plan, it is fundamental to move away from the concept of language as we know it, because as HPB In The Secret Doctrine HPB states: “Languages" have their phase of growth., like everything else in nature" (SD, II.662). "They have their cyclical evolution, their childhood, purity, growth, fall into matter, mixture with other languages, maturity, decay, and finally death" (SD, II.199). So, a language that does not need that limitation of words, but that is transmitted from our most spiritual part, would be in itself a sacred language, it would not use the symbols that limit but that divine energy that follows thought and that embraces everything. But while we reach that goal, it is worthwhile to add, to those already mentioned, some reflections on what we can do from our present as individuals interested in cooperating with the Divine Plan.
As an educator, I think it is critical to provide a transformative education in which competition, senseless punishments, violence, and mere concern for intellectual knowledge are absent. Instead, we need an education for cooperation, compassion, service and fraternity, an education that fosters collaborative, cooperative, assertive, and truthful, harmless communication. This use of language as parents and teachers, is fundamental. It is important to have assertive communication, respectful and positive parenting and teaching. To be more careful in the use of words in our languages, we need to use them properly, to be sure of their meaning, and to take care that the words we use are helpful, not hurtful, full of kindness and good will. And this applies not only to education but to all spheres of our lives.
Let us also remember that language goes beyond the spoken and written word and that the way we move, the way we look and gesticulate has a very important impact on what we communicate. It is even said that a very high percentage of the impact and reach of our message has to do with the elements of nonverbal language that we have already mentioned. So, in the context of a universal language that builds the humanity of the future, we would speak of a language of love, with a kind look, a serene smile on the face, an attitude of constant listening and service, readiness to give and receive from the cleanliness of being, with a pure heart, an awakened intellect, a spiritual perception without veils. Eleanor Roosevelt used to say that “Small minds talk about people; average minds talk about events; great minds talk about ideas". I would add: those who are on the way to transcend the self, the limitations of the physical vehicles into a “we”, and are able to realize oneness, not only they would not need to speak, their actions, their look and the recognition of that oneness would be enough to communicate.
All of this becomes attainable as we become more connected to the divine essence of which we are a part. As we establish an inner life in which we experience the joy of Silence, we quickly see that being excessively talkative is a waste of valuable energy. We can concentrate more on purifying the quality of our thoughts, on actions that have a positive impact, and so on. And as already mentioned, it is important to introduce into our life practices such as meditation, study, service and mindfulness.
Let us ask ourselves as students of Theosophy what could be, for example, the contribution of an institution like The Theosophical Society? Along these lines, as we read what has been called the unique Letter of the Maha Chohan, It is mentioned that The Theosophical Society was proposed as the cornerstone, the foundation of the future religion of mankind. HPB states that there is a natural connection between language and religion. (SD, Introduction of Vol. 1, p. xxix) So, religion and language lead us to a union, to a communion, they are the product of the need to transcend barriers: to unite. The fundamental doctrines of all religions are identical in their esoteric meaning; all languages have a common goal: to communicate.
As Raghavan N. Iyer mentions, there are many synonyms for Theosophy: Theosophy, Wisdom Religion, Brahma Vidya and Gupta Vidya. But there is one that Iyer especially highlights as a synonym for Theosophy, the term Brahma Vach. Brahma Vach is the primordial latent sound and light, it is a creative, generative power and therefore deeply related to the power of speech. To sound the keynote of Brahma Vach in our lives, then, is to make Theosophy a Living Power through the Magic of Sound. But I will add that this sound does not necessarily need to be physical or audible; it is the power of the sound of the voice of the silence. To make this keynote sound in our lives connects us with that religion of the future, and with it, the future civilization and language. And this happens, to quote Iyer again: “When we consecrate our entire self to the practical realization of Brahma Vach and the shedding of its pristine light on the path of spiritual self-regeneration in the service of humanity”. Then, we can think not only of a language of the future, but a civilization of the future and of the realization of the Divine Plan that is evolution.
If you want to watch Catalina’s presentation on which above article was based, click HERE