“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7.
Answersingenesis.org dates the confusion of languages as depicted in Genesis 11 to 2242 B.C. At that time, the inhabitants of the world were dispersed by language group. Language continues to be the greatest barrier to ethnic interconnectivity. According to ethnologue.com as of 2017 there are 7,099 languages spoken in the world. Therefore, 4,259 years after the Tower of Babel languages continue to divide people into nationalistic entities. Into this mix, smartphones and supercomputers have begun to change the landscape of worldwide language disconnectivity.
Linguistic Mapping systems have developed in the past several years. One site, Llmap.org, was developed as a project of Eastern Michigan University, the University of Stockholm, and several other collaborators. Indiana University oversees new.linguistlist.org, to discuss issues and exchange linguistic information. Ethonologue.com is powered by Summer Institute of Linguistics. Worldgeodatasets.com is run as For-Profit site marketing their linguistic research. I.B.M.’s Watson, Google’s Cloud Natural Language API, and Amazon’s Lex are also important contributors to the fields of linguistics, voice recognition (VoiRec), and Instantaneous Translation (InsTra). The field of linguistic mapping has grown significantly, attested by universities with degrees in linguistic studies and the competition in this area between technology companies.
Greater clarity in understanding diversity among languages provides assistance in the development of InsTra tools. The advent of smartphones has revolutionized the need for inter-linguistic communication. Further, social media provides the big data necessary for study of linguistic differentiation.
The first cell phone that had “smartphone” capabilities was the Simon Personal Communicator unveiled 13 November 1993. It was created as a joint venture between Bellsouth and I.B.M. The term smartphone was first used of the iPhone, unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2007. It is estimated that 1.495 billion smartphones were sold in 2016, and that there existed a total of 2.1 billion users by the end of 2016, representing approximately 28.3% of the world population.
The interconnectivity represented by worldwide smartphone use portrays a rapid seismic historical event. Worldwide inter-communication provides an incentive to breaking down the linguistic divides put in place at the Tower of Babel.
Supercomputers and Instantaneous Translation
Connected to the capitalistic motivation of selling smartphones is conjoined the corollary need to incentivize sales. Members of smaller language groups must be made to expect the benefits of software and applications available to larger language groups. These incentives necessitate InsTra and VoiRec. In the past, InsTra and VoiRec required the computing speeds of the largest supercomputers in the world. However, by 23 August 2017, Google announced its ability to translate instantaneously both text and voice in 90 languages in the world on the Galaxy smartphone. This was up from 32 languages in 2015. The future trend appears to be InsTra into more languages from smaller devices.
The M.I.T. Technology Review (9 May 2017) heralded a breakthrough in deciphering translation into rare languages at the University of Munich:
“So an important challenge for linguists is to find a way to automatically analyze less common languages to better understand them. Today, Ehsaneddin Asgari and Hinrich Schutze at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany say they have done just that. Their new approach reveals important elements of almost any language that can then be used as a stepping stone for machine translation.
“The new technique is based around a single text that has been translated into at least 2,000 different languages. This is the Bible, and linguists have long recognized its importance in their discipline. Consequently, they have created a database called the Parallel Bible Corpus, which consists of translations of the New Testament in 1,169 languages. This data set is not big enough for the kind of industrial machine learning that Google and others perform. So Asgari and Schutze have come up with another approach based on the way tenses appear in different languages.”
Using the various translations of the New Testament, researchers are now decoding linguistic distinctions. At this time, their research appears to be limited to verbal tenses. However, as research develops, it may soon be possible that computer programs will decode the linguistic differentiation God injected into the human experience at the Tower of Babel. One of the driving motivations in this quest is the dominance of worldwide Bible translation in the history of Protestant Missions!
The ultimate success of this proposed linguistic connectivity has yet to be seen. It’s implications on the global human experience have yet to be discerned. There will be religious ramifications to this possible linguistic geo-connectivity. First, restraint will be needed to avoid drifting into religious centralization, so that freedom of conscience can be upheld in light of denominational distinctives. Second, with centralized inter-connectivity comes the issue of control of past and present worldwide Bible translation and translations, as well as Bible access and distribution. It is clear that as linguistic differentiation decreases, an administrative vacuum will be created.
It is helpful to remember that the same God who confused the languages of men so many years ago, also understands computer Assembler Language. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise!
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9.
For a related paper from 2013: “Virtualized Biblical Authority: A 50-Year Megashift from Biblical Inerrancy to Automated Translation Work”: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf.
Emerging Technology from arXiv, “Linguistics Breakthrough Heralds Machine Translation for Thousands of Rare Languages” (9 May 2017); available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/607825/new-software-program-translates-thousands-of-rare-languages/ (Online); accessed: 26 Nov 2017; Internet.