March 06, 2007

Diversity of Tongues: curse of Babel or gift of Pentecost

Pentecost

In this chapter, Allchin uses two religious metaphors to represent two kinds of attitudes towards poetry and language; the story of Babel is associated with a negative feeling about language and the difficulty of communication, while Pentecost celebrates a multiplicity of tongues. Allchin is aware that Pentecost is the more progressive metaphor, since: ‘The unity which the Spirit brings is thus seen as a unity in difference, a unity in freedom, which brings out rather than suppresses the multiplicity, the richness of the universe which God has made’ (126). This vision occurs in the hymns and sermons of N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 -1872), a Danish theologian who had a great effect on the early leaders of Welsh nationalism. According to Allchin, Grundtvig’s Pentecost is, ‘not […] an isolated wonder, nor […] something altogether without precedent in human history, but rather [it is] the totally unmerited fulfilment of a divine activity which despite the fall has never ceased throughout creation’ (128).

But can different languages co-exist and if so, how? Allchin recommends an appreciation of different languages which emerges from, ‘a vision of the world as made by God in diversity as well as unity, from a vision of a qualitative catholicity of life, which respects and does not destroy human differences and variety’ (138). One answer, according to Allchin, might be to extend a multilingual language policy not only in Wales, but in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. The fact that English people have ignored minor languages to a great extent signal to Allchin, ‘a degree of blindness which is disabling indeed, an unwillingness to recognize the existence of the other and to let him speak in his own terms, which, while it is universal in our fallen humanity, is yet a special affliction of peoples with an imperial past’ (139).

A.M. Allchin. Praise Above All: Discovering the Welsh Tradition. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991.


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