No Comment, Quotation — January 24, 2009, 6:51 am

Herder on the Origins of Language

turner-burial-at-sea

Der Mensch besweiset Reflexion, wenn die Kraft seiner Seele so frei würket, daß sie in dem ganzen Ocean von Empfindungen, die sie durch alle Sinnen durchrauschet, eine Welle, wenn ich so sagen darf, absondern, sie aushalten, die Aufmerksamkeit auf sie richten, und sich bewußt sein kann, daß sie aufmerke. Er beweiset Reflexion, wenn er aus dem ganz schwebenden Traum der Bilder, die seine Sinne vorbeistreichen, sich in ein Moment des Wachens sammlen, auf Einem Bilde freiwillig verweilen, es in helle, ruhigere Obacht nehmen, und sich Merkmale absondern kann, daß dies der Gegenstand und kein andrer sei. Er beweiset also Reflexion, wenn er nicht bloß alle Eigenschaften, lebhaft oder klar erkennen; sondern eine oder mehrere als unterscheidende Eigenschaften bei sich anerkennen kann… wodurch geschahe die Anerkennung? Durch ein Merkmal, was er absondern mußte und was, als Merkmal der Besinnung, deutlich in ihn fiel. Wohlan! Lasset uns ihm das ?????? zuruffen! Das erste Merkmal der Besinnung war Wort der Seele! Mit ihm ist die Menschliche Sprache erfunden!

Man demonstrates reflection when the power of his soul comports itself so freely that it can segregate from the whole ocean of sensitivities which course through his senses one single wave, if I may put it this way, and he can suspend this wave, draw attention upon it, and be conscious of this process. He demonstrates reflection when from the entire wavering dream of images that courses through his senses he can gather himself in a moment of calm and focus on one image, observing it in clear and quiet contemplation, and abstracting from it the qualities which show that this and nothing else is the object. He thus demonstrates reflection when he can not only perceive all the qualities vividly or clearly; but rather when he can recognize one or several of them as distinguishing characteristics… Now how, exactly, did he arrive at this recognition? Through a characteristic that he had to abstract, and which, as an element of the conscious, struck him clearly. Well, then, let us exclaim eureka! The first characteristic of consciousness was the language of the soul! In this way, human language came into being.

Johann Gottfried Herder, Über den Ursprung der Sprache, pt I (1772) in: Werke in vier Bänden, vol. 2, pp. 276-77 (W. Pross ed. 1987)(S.H. transl.)

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