Babel: A history of linguistics

Babel: A history of linguistics

Akshitha Venkataraman, Assistant editor in chief

Babel by RF Kuang is a story that first came out over a month ago, and has since won many prestigious awards, such as the GoodReads award and the Speculative fiction award from Barnes and Noble. 

Babel follows the story of Robin, a young Cantonese boy who essentially is chosen to study at Oxford in order to translate texts for the British imperial nation. 

Robin had to encounter various instances with other students from British colonies in order to allow the British to further colonize and utilize language as a tool to essentially create propaganda and communicate with their imperial colonies. Thus, the story covers important facets of anti imperialism, covering every aspect of translation and the innate nature of utilizing one’s own native people in methods to subjugate their own. 

This book comes at an important time in history where censorship and language have a certain level of power that is given to the government in order to ensure that knowledge is reserved for a certain select group of people. Ignorance is often used as a tactic to ensure that no one is able to efficiently create a level of pushback. 

Additionally, Babel is a reflection of the current issues still present within linguistics and the act of translation. The book states that “Translation is always an act of betrayal” and that essentially means that translation from different languages is inherently an act of changing its meaning or purpose, thus causing it to change from its original exact meaning. 

Throughout the novel, Kuang manages to ensure that the British colonies of parts of East asia, South asia, and Africa are all well represented in creating a historical fiction work that econ passes the experience of imperialism in a lesser known lens: that of language and communication. 

Babel is a story committed to providing insight into ancient institutions that still have recurring effects in terms of language and literacy, thus allowing for a larger discussion surrounding imperialism and its lasting effects on communication.