Our heroes are faced with yet another impending disaster of the week but would probably be fairly easy to solve. The problem is that the key character for this task has lost his ability to communicate.
The name of this trope comes from a structure in the Bible that mankind built to reach the heavens and become gods themselves. The God didn't like that, so He made all of them speak different languages to create mass confusion and halt the construction.
Often the main reason for Poor Communication Kills. See also Tongue-Tied and Cannot Spit It Out. When the style of language is the barrier rather than the language itself, they're a Strange-Syntax Speaker.
- In the aptly-titled "Tower of Babel" Story Arc of the comic book Justice League of America, Ra's Al Ghul renders the entire world both aphasic and dyslexic.
- The Scarecrow once inflicted this on Gotham City in an early story in The Batman Adventures. Batman and Robin only managed to track him down with help from one of his Mooks, whose own grandmother had nearly died because she could no longer read her medicine bottles.
- Morning Glories Issue #22 sees Hunter, Hisao and The Truants enter The Tower, causing each character to begin speaking in different languages. Interestingly, all the characters are able to understand one another, despite speaking seven different languages. A translation of the scene can be found in the Study Hall page.
- The original Tower Of Babel in The Bible.
- The fate of the N.I.C.E. in C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength is a Shout-Out to the Biblical Tower of Babel.
- The Tower of Babel story is Older Than They Think — an older Sumerian version of the story exists, as told here.
- The curse is then reversed at Pentecost, where the Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak every language that existed in the known world. This was eventually considered a "sign gift" and became a matter of controversy that Paul dealt with in his epistles.
- In Snow Crash, the Big Bad is attempting to spread an informational virus that causes infected people to revert to the "language of Babel", supposedly a primitive language wired into the human brainstem. He uses this language to essentially take control of their minds. The language is incomprehensible to anyone who is uninfected and hasn't studied it extensively.
- Octavia E. Butler's short story Speech Sounds explores the aftermath of a pandemic plague that has left the vast majority of humans unable to speak, read, comprehend language, or some combination thereof.
- In the MechWarrior: Dark Age novels, one mech jock suffers brain damage in battle, she is still largely able to communicate, but she switches out key words. Due to the severity of the situation, she is pressed into battle despite her injuries, and is killed in the next fight.
- A Mage's Power: Zaticana, goddess of language, deliberately caused the original split in Tariatla's languages. She didn't do this as a punishment, but because she thought the results would be fun to watch.
- In Samuel R. Delany's novel Babel-17, as Wong progresses in her study of the language called Babel-17, she starts to find herself occasionally getting stuck in that mode at unexpected times, unable to revert her thinking back to a language her crew might understand. Thinking in Babel-17 helps her think strategically, but the mode appears to be somewhat addictive. And being a strategic genius isn't much good if you can't communicate your strategies to the people who need to implement them.
- In the final arc of Worm, Taylor loses her ability to comprehend language as the result of Panacea tampering with her brain.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" took this to the extreme, when the entire town had their voices taken away by the Monsters of the Week.
- Doctor Who:
- The patient-of-the-week in one episode of House is dysphasic. So in a twist on the usual plot, the patient has a diagnosis-cracking secret, and really wants to reveal it, but he can't.
- The pilot episode of the show centered on a schoolteacher who was suddenly stricken with Aphasia before losing consciousness. She did have the presence of mind to write a message on the chalkboard to the students to call the nurse. (The cause turned out to be a parasite in her brain from something she ate.)
- In a small arc in season 6, Sun-Hwa Kwon of Lost manages to lose her ability to speak English. Only she can still write in English, so there's no barrier to communication, and she's fine three episodes later. This is, unsurprisingly, generally considered one of the more pointless story arcs in the series' history.
- In an episode of Monk, Adrian Monk developed aphasia as a result of the shock of seeing his formerly-immaculate apartment wrecked by an earthquake. It led to a gag at the end, where Monk delivers the episode's Necro Cam Summation in that same gibberish.
- Power Rangers S.P.D., "Recognition": Sky switches bodies with an alien who is physically unable to speak English (and the alien deliberately breaks the translator for good measure).
- This happened to the cast in the So Weird episode "Babble", due to their exposure to a stone from the tower.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Fifth Race", Jack loses his ability to speak anything other than Ancient after having an ancient library dumped into his brain. Initially he can still understand spoken English and write/type it, but eventually even that fails. The exact same thing happens again in "Lost City", but that time it's intentional.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Babel": The station's occupants are exposed to a bioweapon that disrupts their speech centers, causing the victims to develop aphasia.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Loud as a Whisper": The only diplomat who can broker a peace is rendered mute when his telepathic translators are killed. Turns out good in the long run when he decides to force the warring parties to spend weeks learning to communicate with him, and thus cool their tempers and learn to cooperate.
- Star Trek: Voyager, "Think Tank": Really the converse of this trope, Voyager is able to escape the think-tank's plan by disrupting the ability of its members to communicate with each other.
- In another episode, Neelix's universal translator suddenly fails while he is on a trading away mission, rendering him unable to communicate with his trading partners. An alien named Arturis, who happens to be from a species which is exceptionally good in learning languages, comes to Neelix' rescue by playing his interpreter. Out of gratitude, Neelix invites him to the Voyager. It later turns out that Arturis very probably has orchestrated this whole incident, because he needed to gain the crew's trust for his plans of revenge. (He considers Cpt. Janeway to be responsible for the Borg assimilating his species.)
- In one episode of Red Dwarf:
Holly: Rude alert! Rude alert! An electrical fire has knocked out my voice recognition unicycle! Many Wurlitzers are missing from my database. Abandon shop! This is not a daffodil. Repeat, this is not a daffodil.
- In Warehouse 13, stones from the tower make anyone touching them unintelligible to anyone who is also not in contact with a stone, effectively encrypting speech.
- In Strange Days At Blake Holsey High, SIM cards with powerful encryption programming can be used in cell phones to render someone unintelligible or render speech between two people unintelligibly encrypted to anyone also not possessing a phone with one.
- For a number of strips of The Order of the Stick, Haley Starshine could only speak in cryptograms that would change in every strip. Allowing readers who were clever/determined enough to figure out what she was saying.
- One post-revival arc of Fans! had the villains remove all written language from history, resulting in worldwide illiteracy and an inability to communicate by writing.
- In one episode of Batman Beyond, appropriately named "Babel", Shriek messes with soundwaves, preventing anyone in Gotham City from being able to communicate intelligibly.
- In Futurama, Leela learns that some giant alien brains are rendering everyone on Earth into idiots... and then she falls under their power, too, and can barely talk well enough to explain the problem to the one person who can help.
Leela: [with urgency] "Brain! Brain make people dumb."Fry: [patiently] "No, Leela, brain make people smart."Leela: "Nooo!"
- In one episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny saves Tokyo from some monsters and comes back home after. Problem is, she had switched language discs from English to Japanese and lost her English disc in Tokyo. She suffers the majority of the episode—and half a battle with the Japanese monsters—speaking Japanese, even though one assumes her mother could've just burned her a new English disc. Luckily, a kid she saved back in Japan shows up with a tour group to give the English disc to her.
- In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, a pack of squirrels raise a ruckus after the Mayor builds a statue over the spot where they'd been burying their acorns. Bubbles, who can talk to animals, is unable to sort things out because she had been rendered mute after a bee she nearly swallowed stung her in the throat.
- In the episode "Babel" of Green Lantern: The Animated Series Hal, Kilowog, and Razer's rings run out of power so they can't translate each others native tongues.
- A CBS news reporter suffered from this while on the air, leading to widespread speculation that she had suffered a stroke. It was later found to be caused by an unusual form of migraine headache.
- Aphasia is the Real Life version of this. It can be caused by strokes, brain damage, migraine headaches, and so on.
- Blogger and author M.Giant recounts his experience with temporary aphasia here.