I am on the plane home from a huge personal accomplishment. I am returning to the US having just visited Egypt and my 7th continent of the world (yes, that includes Antarctica). While I have visited some of the most amazing parts of the world, I know I still have much to see. Through my travels, I have enjoyed some of the most impressive natural wonders, man made structures, and passionate individuals.
My most recent visit to Egypt has given me an overwhelming respect for the Egyptian culture and history. While I am sure some will argue with me, I don’t believe any ancient culture holds a candle to the impressive advancements of the Egyptians. Perhaps I can validate my argument with the fact that the pyramids of Giza are the only ancient wonder of the world still standing. Almost 5,000 years old, they are a testament of incredible engineering, religion, and science.
I feel extremely grateful for my knowledge of English. The one thing that has gotten me through many of my travels is the global effort to improve English skills. English is a difficult and impure language, but it is the language by which the world is trying to build a common foundation.
I wrote an earlier blog called “Is English the Only Language of Business” and while I make some strong arguments to the decreasing viability of English, I will purposely contradict myself here. The Egyptian language, while incredibly preserved through the impressive written history left by the scribes, was not understood for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that, as luck would have it, the Rosetta Stone was found.
When the Greek empire occupied Egypt starting around 300 B.C., they wanted to make it clearly known to the Egyptians who their new leader was. Therefore, they required a manuscript to be delivered that included Greek and Egyptian languages to ensure all understood it (it had a 3rd language too). Because Greek is not lost to us today, the Rosetta Stone was our key to translating Greek into Egyptian. Taking common parts of the languages in repetitive sections, the Egyptian language was rediscovered.
I had a chance to see a replica of the Rosetta Stone (the real one was on tour at the time) along with many of the Egyptian writings and relics. The Egyptians left us manuscripts of knowledge about their experiences, beliefs, and wars, at least the wars they won. I guess it goes to say, “whoever wins the battle gets to write the history books.” The Egyptians enjoyed nearly 3,000 years of writing history books.
The Rosetta Stone was one of the most critical finds in archeological history but let’s think about the importance of the Rosetta Stone when it was written. The Greeks, while conquerors, were also connectors. When they conquered a civilization they didn’t destroy it, they integrated it. Many of the names, places and temples (even the word pyramid) were changed to similar but Greek words. (i.e. Thebes, Pharaoh, Ramses are all Greek names). They didn’t destroy temples or burial grounds, they simply changed their meaning to fit their beliefs and they adopted any impressive designs and architecture.
Most importantly, the Greeks unified the language. They unified the language of all the cultures and civilizations they conquered. This was probably the greatest and smartest achievement of the Greek (as you’ll see in another example below). The unification of language makes running a civilization much easier. Measurements, commerce, and negotiation are standardized. The operational and military become more powerful. When conquering another civilization you have two choices: (1) make the defeated civilization your slaves or (2) make them your subjects.
There are pros and cons to both but a huge problem with slaves is they will only work for so long as human being’s greatest personal desire is freedom. Countless examples from the history of time show slavery as an ultimate failure. The Greeks knew this, so they made people their subjects by quickly standardizing on language. Language standardization also made it easier for the Greeks to change the names and temples to fit their religious beliefs, allowing their new subjects to accept a new religion easier.
The greatest wars of earth’s history has been fought over religion and religious beliefs. They continue to this day. The conquering civilization gets to decide the religion of the defeated. They erect temples and teach all generations how and where to worship. They collect alms, tithings and require acts of worship. Religion is a powerful uniter as well.
The Arabs, following the brilliance of the Greeks, came into power in Egypt because Egypt asked for their protection. The Arabs accomplished something never seen before. Before the Arab support and protection of Egypt, the Arabs made a rule. Obviously, the military protection of Egypt would be very expensive, they had to require a tax. They made a most simple rule, Egyptians would pay a support tax, however, any Egyptian learning Arabic would be exempt from taxes.
The result? In under 70 years the entire nation of Egypt (a predominately Christian nation) had converted to Islam because they all chose to learn Arabic. Never before (and never since) has an entire nation (90%) flipped languages and religion as peacefully and massively as Egypt without a single sword raised in force. The greatest factor of influence: language.
Today the world is uniting under the banner of English. For better or worse, English has become the global standard making it possible to communicate in even the most remote parts of the world. English, the language that was in the hands of peasants for hundreds of years (contributing greatly to its impurities), is now the language of global business, innovation and politics.
There’s one interesting note – The advancement of English carries no religious implications. America, founded for religious freedom, and the driver of English domination, does not push a religious agenda. Could this be the greatest benefit of English, or it’s ultimate failure? Time will tell, and when it doesn’t, I hope we have a Rosetta Stone to uncover the mysteries of our global civilization.
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