As a Latinist by training and as a language enthusiast generally, the Tower of Babel account in Sacred Scripture has always rather bothered me…
If God separated our languages, is it right to learn a language other than your native one? Did He not separate our languages for a reason, most likely to separate us as people so that we would not progress so much so as to no longer need God? After all, in the Genesis account of this, God says that He wishes to confuse human languages since, basically, there would otherwise be no limits to what humanity could do if it continued to have one language. So, again, is it sinful to learn other languages because, in doing so, it, to some extent, even if small, serves to re-unite people who would otherwise be divided because of the separation that God made between the languages in order to keep us separated?
Men in both the Old and New Testaments didn’t really seem to have any problem with learning other languages and the Church seems never to have expressed reservation about it. However, the fact that this occurs both in the OT and NT does not necessarily mean that God endorses it; for there is no direct endorsement of learning other languages in either as far as I know. I only recall (I think it was Augustine) in his discussion of the Babel account expressing some reservation about non-Christians doing so because of their natural tendency to use such to their own destruction.
So, if it is all right for Chistians to learn foreign languages, is it also all right for non-Christians, even though they could, as with anything, use it to their own hurt? I mean, one could argue that, for both Christians and non-Christians there are benefits to learning other languages such as economic and social ones. It both facilitates trade and promots cultural understanding. However, are these reasons sufficient ones for God to allow us to learn other languages?
I’ve always wondered if the passage in Genesis is more descriptive than prescriptive in that it describes why the languages were separated but does not necessarily prescribe that, because of this, we do not learn foreign languages.
Perhaps in support of this view, it may be proposed that no-one is now capable of learning every single language in the world and most people are only capable of learning one, two or three foreign languages fluently in their lifetimes and that we will thus never have the kind of universal language that we once had which was capable of making “anything” possible for us and leading to pride and potential separation from God. However, English now, as was the case with Greek/Latin in the past, is quickly becoming a kind of “world language”. So, should we be cautious of this? Or should we say that God is all right with this since He has sovereignly separated the languages in such a way that we will, as I say, never get to the point of language being so universal as to lead to the potential for progress we had previous to our linguistic separation. I mean that, even though many many people may eventually know English, it will not be so widespread as to make us like the pre-Babel civilization. Perhaps, indeed, God knew what He was doing and that, despite our learning various languages and even English around the world, He sovereignly designed it such that we would never achieve pre-Babel unity.
Does the Church, outside of the Scriptures, speak to this in any way, whether infallibly/dogmatically or not? Again, it seems that the Church has never collectively expressed reservation about either those within her or within the world learning foreign languages.
So, basic question, is it or is it not sinful to learn one or more foreign languages? For the Church? For the world? Why or why not?