Posts tagged ‘language’

October 13, 2014

worth taking a long time to say

Great passage on naming and language from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien:

“Who calls you hobbits, though? That does not sound elvish to me. Elves made all the old words: they began it.”
“Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,” said Pippin.
“Hoom, humm! Come now! Not so hasty! You call yourselves hobbits? But you should not go telling just anybody. You’ll be letting out own own right names if you’re not careful.”
“We aren’t careful about that,” said Merry.
“…Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see,” said Treebeard. “…For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.” A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. “For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.”

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October 9, 2013

bless each apple by kind

A Charm Against the Language of Politics
by Veronica Patterson

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose. Read field guides, atlases,
gravestones. At the store, bless each apple
by kind: McIntosh, Winesap, Delicious, Jonathan.
Enunciate the vegetables and herbs: okra, calendula.

Go deeper into the terms of some small landscape:
spiders, for example. Then, after a speech on
compromising the environment for technology,
recite the tough, silky structure of webs:
tropical stick, ladder web, mesh web, filmy dome, funnel,
trap door. When you have compared the candidates’ slippery
platforms, chant the spiders: comb footed, round headed,
garden cross, feather legged, ogre faced, black widow.
Remember that most short verbs are ethical: hatch, grow,
spin, trap, eat. Dig deep, pronounce clearly, pull the words
in over your head. Hole up
for the duration.

Published in The Sun magazine (November, 1992, Issue 203).

February 18, 2012

across the face of the waters

From Norms and Nobility: a Treatise on Education by David Hicks (35):

Righting this imbalance necessitates a classical understanding of the nature of language, which acknowledges its mystery and weds the word to the mind through the imagination, not exclusively to the external object through the senses. …A love of words and an understanding of language are the creative movement of the spirit across the face of the waters.

February 9, 2012

the world of words had a glamour and wonder

In reading The Classical Trivium by Marshal McLuhan, I’ve appreciate much about it, including his idea that the patterns of grammar are grounded in the patterns of the physical creation and that both the worlds of language and creation provide rich and myriad symbols pointing to “the creative Trinity” (36). See this passage for example (which McLuhan cites from Colson’s Quintilian in a footnote on page 27)

The analogist argues from the unchanging order which prevails in the heavenly bodies, in the tides, in the continuity of species … language is conceived as a world in itself, much as we conceive of the visible world … he [the analogist] is as confident … as the scientific man today … as impatient of the suggestion of disorder … the world of words had a glamour and wonder for them which it cannot have for us.

Or this wonderful passage from Augustine’s De magistro (cited glowingly by McLuhan on pages 34-35):

The natural arts are concerned with the orderly repetitive changes of nature. These are veiled or vestigial signs. The task of the liberal arts is to translate them into simple signs and formulae of such signs, namely into steady and luminous symbols of thought … By means of the liberal arts, things manipulated by the exterior man are formulated by the interior man, with the help of analytic reflection ordered to truth as regulated by the formal modes of language and mathematics.

January 12, 2012

crystallization in an earthly element

In principle, all languages are sacred because their constituent element, speech, or the word, is but an attenuated form of Primordial Speech, the Divine Word, which is the direct source of the creative act, as is shown by the following two quotations from Scripture: ‘God said: Let there be light!’ (Gen. 1:3). As it is written, because of language’s fundamental sanctity we shall have to account for ‘every idle word’; to utter an idle word is, in fact, somewhat equivalent to ‘taking the Name of God [as essential Word] in vain’. The sacredness of speech naturally extends to writing, which is the fixation of Sound–aerial by nature–and as if its crystallization in an earthly element. …This is why the handling of letters, or the art of writing, like the function of teaching, constitutes a skill directly related to the sacred, especially as literature itself is always originally sacred. The scribe, like the cleric, therefore belong by right to the priestly order, which directly represents the divine order on earth.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (5-6).

November 5, 2011

badly used and abused language

The apocalyptic pastor is a poet. St. John was the first major poet of the Christian church. He used words in new ways, making (poetes in Greek is maker) truth right before our eyes, fresh in our ears. The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth. This is St. John’s work; it is every pastor’s work.

…The language of our time is in terrible condition. It is used carelessly and cynically. Mostly it is a tool for propaganda, whether secular or religious. Every time badly used and abused language is carried by pastors into prayers and preaching and direction, the word of God is cheapened. We cannot use a bad means to a good end. Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.

…We learn patience in the very act of reading/listening to St. John’s Apocalypse. If St. John would have been impatient, he would have given us a slogan on a decal. The reason St. John insists on patience is that he is dealing with the vast mysteries of God and the intricacies of the messy human condition. This is going to take some time. Neither the mysteries nor the mess is simple. If we are going to learn a life of holiness in the mess of history, we are going to have to prepare for something intergenerational and think in centuries.

From Eugene H. Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor.

July 23, 2011

unlock’d he the word-hoard

“Word-hoard” is a favorite kenning from Beowulf (and it appears in other Anglo-Saxon literature). In a single compact image, it suggests that we should amass a storehouse of language inside of us (closely related to Augustine’s understanding of memory as a wealthy city). Lines 258 to 260 from Beowulf translated by William Morris and Alfred John Wyatt:

He then that was chiefest in thus wise he answer’d,
The war-fellows’ leader unlock’d he the word-hoard:
We be a people of the Weder-Geats’ man-kin
And of Hygelac be we the hearth-fellows soothly.
My father before me of folks was well-famed
Van-leader and atheling, Ecgtheow he hight.

Via Project Gutenberg.

July 5, 2011

all leaves have been woven

No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept “leaf” is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions; and now it gives rise to the idea that in nature there might be something besides the leaves which would be “leaf”—some kind of original form after which all leaves have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form.

“On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” by Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

We’ll be enjoying sand grains, rocks and waves on the Maine cost today, and I can never enjoy the vast array of particulars without thinking of Nietzsche’s passion for them.

July 4, 2011

back to the rough ground

We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!

From in Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein, part I, 107.

In this iconic passage, Wittgenstein is speaking of the failed effort by the logical positivists to develop or describe an ideal language, one that had a perfect logical consistency. We need the messiness of metaphor, irony, etc. to make language useful to our actual human needs.

[Note: See this passage for an earlier version of Wittgenstein’s assessment regarding the limitations of language.]

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