Posted: Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:39 am
by Alakasandu
GhostHorizon wrote:Language...what is it? Why did it originate? What does it do? What is the relationship between language, mind, and world? is John 1:1 'in the beginning was the Word'? 'In the beginning was the Speech'? 'In the beginning was the Discourse'? Why does the Vulgate say Verbum (Word) rather than something rooted in Dicere (to speak), and what impact might this have had on Western Thought?

The Vetus Latina, of which the Vulgate is an update, and whose manuscripts antedate the Vulgate by at least two centuries, also use the term Verbum (or rather uerbum); in fact most of the Vetus’ manuscripts of John render its 1st verse practically identically to the Vulgate, from what I was able to find anyway. So it would seem that, at least from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Verbum/Uerbum—however we translate that into English—was understood as a normative rendition of Logos.

GhostHorizon wrote:PS I am not particularly talking about God-language - i.e. verbs and nouns predicated or negated with respect to God - and not even particularly theological language, but language in general...normal language, poetic language, mystical language, and any sort of language whatsoever.

Hopefully the basis of my thinking regarding this won’t be considered too restrictively “theological,” but your question and how it starts out with John 1:1 got me pondering some more about the 1st chapters of Genesis. These are my musings about language origins thereat.

The first line of human dialogue recorded in the story, as at 2:23, is on the first occasion upon which one human being meets another. This of course does not prove that the first Human [the adam] never spoke before this, since 2:19-20 has him giving a name to every living nephesh, literally “each living soul/psyche” of the animals. This need not necessarily mean that he audibly gave voice to labels that he randomly came up with for these creatures. The climax of this part of the story is the creation of another creature, a nephesh, with whom the Human can interact on a “comparable” level (as per the description in 2:18). The One Who Exists [YHWH], Who has traced the Human out of the dirt a little bit earlier in the chapter, now forms beasts and winged creatures and brings them to the Human “to see what he would call them.”

The term for “name” in Ancient Hebrew and Egyptian as well as in other Near Eastern cultures of the time does not denote merely a designator label such as names are in modern Western[ised] society. It carries the sense of one’s character and personhood in the same way that to do something “in someone’s name” means to wield or to appropriate his/her power or authority. To acquire the knowledge of the name of a thing or a person, “to see what it/he is called” is to gain power over that thing or person, even if that thing is divine. This was especially true for the Egyptians, for whom to “tarnish someone’s name” was to actively destroy a portion of their makeup, because a person’s ren, “name,” was one of his/her constituent parts just as literally real as the aḫ, “body,” was. Therefore, through most of the empire’s history, Egyptians, especially their kings, traditionally went by nicknames, and would never reveal their real renu, “names.” More can be said on this but that would digress yet further from my point, so back to our story.

The punchline of the Human’s naming of all the creatures is that none of them is “comparable” to him. The point was not simply to give them labels. It was an exercise in the Human distinguishing himself, in character and essence, from the other creatures “taken out of the ground.” Moreover the Human was exercising power over all the other souls by bestowing upon them their characters: their identities, linking back to the blessing of dominion in 1:28. This becomes the first function of human language and the first reference to human thought in regard to anything.

Indeed, the Human is furnished with the injunction about *not* eating from a certain tree prior to this, but then before any instance of a response to the injunction from him, we quickly switch to the declaration by the One Who Exists, saying that it is not good for the Human to be alone (2:16-18). After Woman is created we hear the Human speak for the first time. It might be that this is the first time he is actually able to speak, the previous naming exercise having taken place in silence, in his mind. Perhaps communication between him and his Maker occurred mentally up until this point, at which he is now no longer alone; and maybe a link can be made between this and what the “Word” does in John 1:14.

There’s a saying that communication is the key to life. Much of human interaction is characterised by the failure to effectively communicate, even—and maybe often especially—while speaking or writing in the “same language.” In a big way I perceive the term language as a word that we use to describe this dismal failure. Or to put it differently, no two humans actually speak the same language. Once upon a time they—the Two of them—did, but not no more. And that is, in a very real sense, what death is: the failure to communicate, with one another and with the Source of Life. There are many ways in which I understand the subject of the warning given to the Human about the fact that the very same day that he ate of the aforementioned tree, he would surely die.

The Human and his Woman were (truly) one. They communicated successfully. Once they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge, communication started to break down and thus so did their oneness. Where there was once clear signal they started to hear static, manifested shortly afterwards by fear and by the Human accusing both Woman and his Maker for [his] internal conflict. The static got louder when a misunderstanding of some kind erupted between the One Who Exists and the first son of the Human (4:5). There’s still quite a bit of debate to this day about the precise terms of that misunderstanding, but whatever the case, it led to fratricide (4:8), which was then perpetuated in a flurry of static and violence that culminated in a crescendo of the primaeval waters of creation washing beasts, winged creatures and humanity off the face of the ground from which they were taken (Chs. 6-8).

After the immersion of the Earth, humanity appeared to be one again, united in a sense of purpose, a goal which was based on the first thing acquired after the meal from the Tree of the Knowledge: fear. Not wanting to be scattered abroad over the face of the ground, the thing which humanity wanted to attain was a name, a sense of true identity, which in Hebrew is shem. When the One Who Exists descended upon them to mix up their speech so that they might not hear one another out, the static interference resumed and the one thing which was feared is what occurred: scattering. Immediately after the end of that story is the start of the toledoṯ or, in Greek, genesis of Shem, one whose name is literally “Name,” who has an Identity, connecting his place in the new creation upon the new earth which has arisen from the flood-waters to those who come after him in the remainder of the chapter.

From a somewhat different angle from what I've suggested above regarding the origin of language, I’d like to believe that humans learned to speak by listening to their Father’s Speech. In the account of creation at the beginning of John perhaps they are learning Speech anew. And when the One Who Exists descends upon them, His Breath dispels the static interference so that the people might hear one another out. And become one.