Where does language come from?
Much has been written about the probable beginnings of language. When did we first begin using language? How did we learn to make language sounds? How did we relate the sounds to the things we wanted to comment about? How did we relate our feelings to the sounds we made? How did we relate symbols and pictures to the ideas that we wanted to express? What is the connection between the pictures, the images, the ideas, and our sounds? How did we start writing stories or histories on different surfaces? Why did we write them in the spaces or areas where they have been found: sections of cowhide, cave walls, stone pillars, walls of buildings? I have been reading about the origin of language, specifically English, looking for a clue to the question of how we are losing our language. The bibliography in the back of this book lists some of the more recent sources to which I have turned for answers. In just this last half century, there have come to be so many words that we no longer use. These are words which represent important images. There are also many words which we use in a way that strips them of what they represent. Some words are deliberately twisted for the express purpose of changing our views and distorting our understanding. This process began in great earnest in the late 1970s and it hasn’t slowed down a bit. The most offensive recent offering is the pejorative use of the word ‘entitlement’. Where does language come from and where do the distortions of words come from?
And, how do words get meaning?
There is a popular idea extant that words do not have any meaning other than what we personally invest in them. That idea is both ‘so’ and ‘not so’; as, a word cannot mean something that we do not mean in saying it. However, words are composed of symbols that do actually represent something in particular whether or not we understand what we are saying when we use the words. Interestingly, words often come back in fashion and are thought of as new words when they are ancient ideas. Some of these ideas are so ancient that we don’t know when they were first written. The only way we have to track the age of a word is by when it was first found in written form. Where do we get them from? How can we know words and phrases that disappeared from our speech way before we were born?
Our own ‘Screen of Ideation’?
The place those words and images come from may be the very place from which they came originally. I have yet to find an authority who offers an idea of the original source for language. A young friend of mine said something to me that prompted a brainstorm. He was anxious to share something with me. He had just noticed that when he closed his eyes he could see wonderful colors, blues and greens. Like most grownups, I talked too much and didn’t listen enough. Later, I started thinking about his wonderful revelation and remembered when I was little and first started seeing things, sometimes things that the grown-ups said weren’t there. Children do that a lot. Like most people, they stop seeing things and stop talking about things that others say ‘cannot be’. After a while we stop seeing what we see and hearing what we hear. Instead we see and hear what is possible, what is acceptable and what we know to be so. How bright and right and good we are is in direct proportion to how much we get right about what we know; therefore, we come to know a great deal of what is acceptable common knowledge. Sadly, we often stop trusting our own senses and our own instincts.
At present, so very much of what we know comes to us from pictures, stories, and images which we see on various screens; movie, television, computer, and cell phones. These screens form much of our vision of reality as well as the sounds and opinions that are the acceptable reality. We seem to have substituted our personal screen for an electronic one. This idea brought to mind a book that I found at the Huntington Library, “The Medieval Vision…” We have not always perceived reality the way that we do presently.
From that book:
“…as I read on…I was confronted again and again by passages that seemed to heighten the remoteness of the medieval past. Many of these passages related visions, or used metaphors of sight to convey abstract thought. The ubiquitous visionary imagination seemed to me an evocative symbol of the perceptual distance between our own times and the middle ages, and a touchstone for a tentative exploration of that distance…” 
Our English language was constructed in the Tenth Century, the last part of what we call the Dark Ages, immediately preceding the Medieval Period. At that time, we were still seeing things with that screen that we see in our own mind. This would shed some light on where we originally got our images and our sounds that became written and spoken language. Our language is rife with imagery of the world about us and of our perceptions of it. When we dream, whether day or night and whether we call it imagination, hallucination, nightmare, illusion, delusion, or any of the other ways that we categorize alternate ways of perceiving, we are in fact seeing, hearing, and feeling real human perceptions. These are also our own perceptions and they are our own business as long as they don’t interfere with anyone else.
Now I will be among the first to assert that we must stipulate a reality in common with that of other people, a ‘real’ world with set boundaries and rules. We can’t just trip-out on our own version of reality. We require laws and order, agreement on acceptable customs and mores. In a world as complex as ours, we have to make a covenant to observe set rules; we can’t just ignore little things like red and green lights, double yellow lines, speed limits, restraints on speech and temper, and all the other annoyances of everyday life. We all require codes of conduct, moral codes, geasas to order our lives. And, while we have all manner of law, rule and custom in society, we also need a personal code, one that we set for ourselves. This is one of the vital things that is currently lacking in many peoples’ lives. The only effective control in society is self control which is based on standards of conduct that we set for ourselves and enforce for ourselves. No one can be any more demanding, any more unrelentingly judgmental than a person who has placed a code of conduct on the ‘self ‘. Such a code binds all the permutations of personality including multiples, alternative selves, alter egos and various expressions of what is currently called the id. We need the information that we get from that inner screen which reflects the content of our own mind.
This screen that we see in our mind’s eye, this screen behind our eyelids where dreams and imagination show themselves and express values, this is a real part of us. This part of us informs us and forms our consciousness. It makes a lot more sense to take counsel from this screen than from one programmed by someone who has no vested interest in our well-being. This place in us is where we are directed to go when we meditate, when we are told to sit in the corner and think about it, when we are told to reflect on our behavior. This is the place for quiet time and reflection. This is where we go in sleep. And, this is also the place we go while awake, if we do not get enough sleep. Some of the most valuable education happens in this special place.
Is this inner screen the source of language?
I posit that the images and sounds which make up our language were generated in this place in our mind. I think we still find the sounds and images in this place. Perhaps it is the repository of that thing which is often referred to as race memory. The definitions of the word ‘race’ are examples of the difference between the type of thinking done in our conscious mind and that done in the part that has the viewing screen: My personal circumstances have placed me in that other mindset much of the time and I could not see the sense in the definition of ‘race’ as etymologically related to the Latin generatio, a begetting. This origin leads to the idea that race is related to inheritance. An alternative definition, which is strongly visual, is Anglo-Saxon ræs, a rush, a rapid course, a stream. This latter image is also in the Icelandic and in Irish. It is a rushing stream of water that makes a channel where fish gather. The distinct advantage over the latter view is that it honors the process of observation by noting the visible relationships (existing in a rapid water course) rather than presuming the process of begetting and inheriting since we, arguably, have always been most indiscriminate in our conceiving and begetting process, for example, rape. This is ‘what is’ not what ‘probably or possibly may be; so, why don’t we call this tribal memory. Our tribal memories have stories that support this intuitive avenue of learning.
Observing (seeing) is the part of the scientific method that is too often given short shrift; we often get too quick with the conscious part of the thought process. The conscious part is when we put together the parts that we know and make a plausible story to get the parts to cohere. When we get the steps of the process out of their proper order, we are more likely to make the error of sorting information to support the ‘fact’ that we prefer to believe is so. This is the importance of giving enough time to that part of the mind that observes and listens. If we do not deliberately drown it out with noise and stimulation, this part of our mind is always on alert. Have you ever been awakened from a sound sleep by a dream, and sometimes had the dream keep playing? I call that a ‘waking dream’ and pay special attention.
Intuitive thinking with the inner screen;
This part of us is what pays attention to what is going on in our interior world and in the world around us. This is also, I believe, that mode of thinking, of processing information that is thought of as feminine or as a female way of thinking. It is a non linear process that is not easily contained in noun and other substantives, those words that name things. It also does not fit well in either-or constructs. This way of thinking is more like kenning and is often considered intuitive. Intuition is often not classified as thinking as it does not appear to have a structure. Intuition is too natural, like watching a tree grow. The process is actually quite ordered; but, it takes place over an extended period of time so the order is visible only in the end product. The one way that I can think of to prove the process is to trace the imagery over an extended period of time and symbol changes, rather like following and tracing myth structures.
Having just written that, I have held it out where I can see the absurdity of the idea of “proving intuition”. This is one of the great advantages of the written word. It stops words in time so we can look at them and see the flaws, the errors, the sublime absurdities and the truths.
Intuition is not supposed to be proven. Intuition is the abode of genius. We often think of genius as some rare quality that only a few gifted people own. Genius is a guiding spirit. Everyone has their own brand or variety of genius. We all have something that we do wonderfully well, we all have some thing that we bring to the world. Everything and everyone is a legitimate lifeform with a purpose to fulfill. Intuition is that inner vision that shows us our path, our way of being of service, our particular gifts. An interesting difference in viewpoint is that ‘gifts’ carry the sense of choice. This could also be a difference in the writer’s viewpoints rather than the views of different cultures; although, our language refers specifically to gifts and the word for it (gif) means both ‘gift’ and ‘if’which are about choices.
Intuitive knowing, seen through a ‘Screen of Ideation’ as a possible source of language:
Intuition, that screen for seeing the ambient knowledge, appears to be a source of our use of language. According to Mage of yesteryear, we were given our alphabets by a kind of divine emanations, as in the stories of Prometheus, Odin, Moses, Joseph and Pharaoh. Whether we call this way of receiving information ‘divinity’, ‘intuition’, ‘dreamwork’, or odylic force (od), we cannot deny that many people have reported receiving wondrous ideas. Whatever we call this form of reception, it is nevertheless not the outcome of strenuous, sweaty cognition.
An example from a more recent time, yet not recent enough that we are familiarly contemptuous of the genius, is the story of Cædmon the cowherd. The story was told by the venerable Bede, a monk of the 7th Century who wrote in Latin a history of the Church. “A cowherd in the monastery at Whitby, Cædmon, would leave the evening singing and harping and go out and tend the cattle because he could not sing. There, he lay down to sleep. Someone appeared to him in a dream, greeted him and said, ‘Cædmon, sing me something.’ He answered that he had left because he could not sing. The presence responded, ‘No matter, you are to sing for me.’ Well, what shall I sing? ‘Sing’ said the presence. Cædmon began singing praises of God the Creator, verses that he had never heard.
In the morning he related his dream and repeated his poem to Abbess Hilda. They translated a part of the Bible for him. By the next morning he had turned it into verse. He became a monk and went on versifying scripture history.”
The power of language is not the province of scholars alone. In addition to Cædmon, there was also the Hebrew shepard, David. The centuries have produced many natural prodigies of music, language, painting, sculpture, dance, and more. Many of them have even been blind, deaf, or handicapped. So, where and how did they perceive what they received if not this inner screen? We have to be able to visualize something before we can make it. Where did we come up with moving pictures, televisions and computer screens? We exteriorize our inner realities.
We humans are getting mighty messy so, it is time to start getting our inner realities cleaned up. Certainly we can do more with our genius than pile up merchandise and sell it for play-pretend wealth and send military all over the world to protect our markets. Wealth is about well-being and most of the world doesn’t seem to be doing that well, ourselves included. Getting our inner realities squared away requires getting our language in sync with what it represents. To that purpose, I am taking the route of our original ideographic symbol system to decode the sense of a substantial part of our English language. I must add that I will be working with the able assistance of several scholars through the medium of many books.
When I hear so much about the lack of imagination among our young people, I can’t believe that it is lacking. I think rather that someone just does not realize that imagination is about making images. Somrtimes we get a word in our head, or a slogan, and we don’t connect that word with a mental picture. Imagi-nation is all about making images. Lets us hope that seeing how our language was formed will show us that it is all about seeing in images.
“The Medieval Vision”, Erickson, Carolly p. V, Preface
A ‘geasa’ is an Irish version of a taboo, code of honor, chivalric bond. Failure to follow the bond, after once having accepted it, results in loss of honor and sometimes loss of life. See Squire’s or MacManus.
See the rune of Odal for the expression of ‘id’.
“Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary” p. 1484
op, cit. p. 1484
op. cit. p. 765 [L. genius the guardian deity or spirit of a person from gignere to produce] either of two spirits, one good and one evil, assigned to a person at birth and supposed to influence one’s destiny also [Arabic jinn plural of jinn, a supernatural being that can take human or animal form and influence human affairs] A similar being exists in the Northern Tradition and is called a Holy Elf. Common usage turned ‘genius’ into a rare gift of a few special people.
The word ‘gift’ is from the rune of Gyfu, the Gracious Giver. This is not given in Websters but in Sweet’s “A.S. Primer” gift is gif or if which also has the sense of ‘choice’
“A History of English Literature” p.10 Neilson and Thorndike
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