Book Review: Unity And A Universal Language

Unity And A Universal Language (World Means To World Peace), by John Dale

While it might be somewhat generous to call this a book, it is at least an interesting pamphlet that combines a subject I know a fair amount about [1] with one I know considerably less about.  John Dale, the author of this particular effort, one that was approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States in 1976, happens to be a man I know personally from his efforts in the Esperanto language as well as his commitment to Portland’s progressive politics.  And as an outsider to the religious culture this book is written about, it is interesting to look at his approach as a writer and to examine the ways in which one goes about supporting different causes within different religious frameworks than my own.  Admittedly, this is something I greatly enjoy doing, seeing how insiders in different religious contexts deal with the subject of having to appeal to others on behalf some sort of cause or goal, and this book is short enough that the process is a fairly transparent one in that the author does not have the time to hide his approach under chapters of misdirection but has to get to the point fairly directly in the course of some thirty pages of writing.

Given this context, the contents of this writing are very straightforward.  The title page shows front and center the Robinson projection of the world, showing a clear globalist intent from the beginning (and one that does not use the traditional Mercator projection either).  Before the main body of the text there is a note that the author took extracts from various material important to the Bahá’i faith by permission of the copyright holders, and then the author goes straight into his goal of connecting the universalist religious ideals of his coreligionists with the universalist goals of communication among Esperantists, going to the point of citing the writings of the religion’s founders and referencing the religious conversion of Lidia Zamenhof, daughter of Esperanto’s founder, to that faith.  And while some of the citations seem a bit like stretching the point, some of them are pretty unmistakably clear that the founders of Bahá’i at least appear to have seen in Esperanto a straightforward language that offered the potential of communication and unity that would be amenable to efforts at propagating their faith.  This is clearly an insider sort of writing, in that it is designed to appeal to those who accept the authority of the religion’s founders, but it is no less intriguing as an example of a rhetorical appeal to a group of people who share the same religious tradition on a matter not of faith but of linguistic practice.

Thus far in world history, global languages have been spread by domination and imperial control.  The reason why so much of the world speaks the languages it does is not because the people of those areas decided that it would be best to learn a handful of languages from the Indo-European family (English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian) or a few other similarly widespread languages like Arabic or Chinese, but generally because those languages were spoken by those in power and were thus important to learn by those who sought power.  The author is clear that Esperanto offers a different way forward by providing an interlanguage that is the national language of no empire and that is not tied to any particular national culture and thus is appropriate as a neutral language that can serve the goals of unity among disparate peoples and cultures without the violence that is caused by domination and exploitation.   Despite my general lack of acceptance of the authorities discussed in the book, it is worthwhile to note that the author himself makes a point of tying the development of Esperanto itself to the goals of his faith in unifying the world’s religions, even making a biblical reference to one of Esperantists’ favorite scriptures, Zephaniah 3:9, besides the more frequent references to such authorities as the words of Bahá’u’lláh, the second and third Glad-Tidings, the Sixth Ishráq, as well as the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which will carry weight in certain circles, if not the ones I happen to travel in.  Languages come with cultural baggage, and come with a context, and the author’s rhetorical skill and willingness to plumb for suitable references and citations for support of his position is admirable even from afar.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to Book Review: Unity And A Universal Language

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