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Knowledge is a Polyglot: The Future of Global Language

Capitalism compels us to compete for natural resources, for market share, and for human capital. We also compete on the level of language, points out Thorsten Pattberg, a German writer, linguist, and cultural critic who writes for Big Think

What's the Big Idea?

"Whoever owns the language, owns knowledge," Pattberg says. "If you think back in history, when St. Jerome translated the Hebrew bible into Latin, he basically ended the Hebrew world order." Similarly, Pattberg argues, Martin Luther's translation of the Latin bible into German opened the way for the German Empire. 

Today, think of the global power that is evinced by words such as ‘Coca-Cola’ or ‘Microsoft,’ which Pattberg says "enjoy greater legal protection that the entire output of, say, the Indian and Chinese civilizations."

Sure, European languages have incorporated some Hindu words like dharma, karma, yoga and guru, Japanese words like tsunami, sushi and sashimi, and even a few Chinese words such as kung fu and yin and yang. And yet, Pattberg points out that Chinese words are largely underrepresented in the English language. There are a number of reasons for this, which Pattberg explores in the video below.  

What Pattberg has us consider, first and foremost, is "how much more beautiful and authentic and sophisticated and accurate" our world would become if we could appreciate the key terminologies of all cultures.

So what does that mean?

Pattberg advocates for a global language, and by that he has something very specific in mind. We need to continue to translate, of course, in order to communicate. But when it comes to the key terminologies of a culture, "we should not translate them but rather we should adopt them," Pattberg says. "The only way, as I see it, to create the global language is really to find a scientific way to adopt as many key terminologies as possible and to unite all the languages’ vocabularies into one." 

Watch the video here:

Directed/Produced by

Peking University, Modern Educational Technology Center

Commissioned by Big Think; © Big Think

Thorsten Pattberg (D.Litt) is a German writer, linguist, and cultural critic. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University, and has been Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and Foreign Research Fellow at Tokyo University. He is the author of four monographs 'The East-West dichotomy,' 'Shengren,' 'Holy Confucius,' and 'Inside Peking University,' and some of his representative articles are 'Language hegemony – It’s shengren, stupid!,' 'Long into the West’s dragon business,' 'China: Lost in Translation,' ‘Lingualism – A New Frontier in Culture Studies’ and 'The end of translation.'

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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