Metamorphoses of the Soul II
I. Spiritual Science and Language
20 January 1910, Berlin
It is of some interest to observe from the point of view of spiritual science in the sense that the word is used here, the various ways by which the human being expresses himself. 1 Cf. the lecture “Sprachwissenschaft”, Dornach, 7th April 1921, in: Die Befruchtende Wirkung der Anthroposophie auf die Fachwissenschaften, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland. (GA 76) For in approaching human life from different sides, as it were, and observing its different aspects as we have done in these lectures, a comprehensive view of it can be gained. Today let us deal with that universal expression of the human spirit which is manifest in language; and next time, under the heading “Laughing and Weeping”, we will then look at a variation, as it were, of human expression which is connected with language but is fundamentally different from it all the same.
When we speak of human language, we feel sufficiently how all the significance, dignity and the whole of the human being are connected with that which we call language. Our innermost existence, all our thoughts, feelings and impulses of the will flow outward to our fellow human beings and unite us with them through language. Thus we feel the possibility of expanding our being infinitely, the ability to make our being extend into our environment through language. On the other hand, anyone who can enter into the inner life of significant personalities will be able to feel particularly how language can also become a tyrant, a force which exercises power over our inner life. We can feel how our feelings and thoughts, those things of a special and intimate nature which pass through our soul, can be expressed only poorly and inadequately in the word, in language. And we can also feel how even the language within which we are placed forces us into specific modes of thinking. Everyone must be aware how the human being is dependent on language as far as his thinking is concerned. It is words to which our concepts are generally attached; and in an imperfect stage of development the human being will readily confuse the word or that which the word inculcates in him with the concept. Here lies the cause for the inability of some people to construct for themselves a conceptual framework which reaches beyond what is contained in the words commonly used in their environment. And we are aware how the character of a whole people who speak a common language is in a certain way dependent on that language. The person who observes national character more closely, the character of languages in their context, must realise that the way in which the human being is able to transform the content of his soul into sounds in turn acts back on the strengths and weaknesses of his character, on the way his temperament is expressed, even on his conception of existence as a whole. The configuration of a language can tell much about the character of a people. And since a language is common to a people, the individual is dependent on a common element, an average quantity, as it were, which prevails among that people. He is thus subject to a certain tyranny, to the rule of commonality. But if one realises that language contains on the one hand our individual spiritual life and on the other the spiritual life of the community, then one comes to see what might be called the “secret of language” as something of special significance. A considerable amount can be learnt about the soul-life of the human being if one observes how this being expresses itself in language.
The secret of language, its origin and development at different periods, has always been the subject of investigation by certain specialist scientific disciplines. But it cannot be said that these disciplines have been particularly successful in our century in uncovering the secret of language. That is why today we will try to illuminate aphoristically so to speak, in broad outline, language, its development and its connection with the human being from a spiritual-scientific point of view as we have been applying it to man and his development.
It is this connection which in the first instance seems so mysterious when we use a word to describe an object, an event, a process. What is the link between a particular combination of sounds which form a word or sentence and that which is within us which the object, expressed as word, means? In this respect outward science has tried to unite a wide range of observations in all kinds of ways. But the unsatisfactory nature of such a method has also been felt. The question is quite simple, and yet it is so difficult to answer: why did the human being, when faced with some object or event in the outside world, produce this or that particular sound from within himself as an echo of that object or event?
From a certain point of view the matter was thought to be quite simple. It was thought, for example, that language was originally formed by an inner ability of our speech organs. This imitated those things which were heard outwardly as sound — the sounds of certain animals for example, or something knocking against something else; rather like when the child hears the dog bark “bow-wow” it calls the dog a “bow-wow”. Such word formation is called onomatopoeic, an imitation of the sound. This was held by certain directions of thought to be the original foundation of sound and word formation. Of course the question how the human being came to name beings which did not emit a sound remains unanswered. The great linguistic researcher Max Müller, 2 Max Müller, 1823–1900. Noted Orientalist, religious and linguistic researcher. realising the unsatisfactory nature of such a theory, ridiculed it by calling it the “bow-wow” theory. He set up another theory which his opponents in turn called “mystical” (giving the word a sense in which it should not be used). For Max Müller holds the view that each object contains within itself, as it were, something which is like a sound; everything in a certain sense has a sound, not only the glass which is dropped, not only the bell which is struck, but everything. And the ability of the human being to establish a relationship between his soul and this expressive element, which is like the essential nature of the object, calls forth the ability in the soul to express this inner sound-being of the object. Thus the essence of a bell can be experienced in the sounding of the “bim-bam”. And Max Müller's opponents returned his ridicule and called his theory the “bim-bam” theory. A more detailed examination would show that something unsatisfactory always remains in trying to characterise outwardly in this way the things which the human being experiences of the nature of things like an echo in his soul. A deeper penetration of the inner being of man is required.
From the point of view of spiritual science the human being is fundamentally a very complex being. He has his physical body, which is governed by the same laws and has the same constitution as the mineral world. Then, from a spiritual-scientific aspect, the human being has a second, higher member of his being, the ether body or life body. Then there is the astral body, the bearer of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, of instincts, desires and passions; this is just as real a member of the human being for spiritual science, if not more real, than the one which one can see with the eyes and touch with the hands. And the fourth member of the human being we called the bearer of the ego. We further saw that at his present stage the development of the human being consists of the ego working on the transformation of the other three members of his being. We also pointed out that at a future time the ego will have transformed these three members in such a way that nothing will remain of what nature, or the spiritual forces which are active in nature, has made of these three human members.
For the astral body, the bearer of pain and pleasure, of joy and sorrow, of all the surging power of the imagination, feelings and perceptions, was created initially without our participation, that is, without any contribution by our ego. But now the ego has become active and it works in such a manner that it purifies and cleanses and subordinates all the qualities and activities of the astral body. If the ego has worked only a small amount on the astral body, the human being is dominated by his instincts and desires; but if it purifies the instincts and desires into virtues, if it orders muddled thinking by the thread of logic, then a part of the astral body has become transformed. It has become transformed from a product in which the ego takes no part into a product of the ego. If the ego fulfils this work consciously, of which today only a start has been made in human evolution, we call this part of the astral body which has been consciously transformed by the ego the “spirit-self”, or, using a term from Oriental philosophy, “Manas”. When the ego works not only on the astral body, but in a different and more intensive way on the ether body, we call this part of the ether body transformed by the ego the “life-spirit”, or, with a term from Oriental philosophy, “Budhi”. And when finally the ego has become so strong — and this will happen only in the far distant future — that it transforms the physical body and regulates its laws and permeates it so that it rules over everything which lives in the physical body, we call this part of the physical body “spirit-man”, or also, because this work begins with controlling the breathing processes, with a term from Oriental philosophy, “Atman”. (Cf. German “atmen” — to breathe.)
Thus we see the human being initially as a four membered being, consisting of a physical body, an ether body, an astral body and an ego. And similarly to the three members of our being which derive from the past, we are able to speak of three members of the human being developing into the future, created by the work of our ego. We can therefore speak of the seven-membered human being by adding to the physical body, ether body, astral body and ego the spirit-self, life-body and spirit-man. But when we consider these last three members as something distant, belonging to the future evolution of mankind, it must be added that the human being is prepared for such a development in a certain way already in the present. Consciously the human being will work with his ego on the physical, ether and astral bodies only in the far distant future; but in the subconscious, that is, without full consciousness, the ego is already transforming these three members of its being on the basis of a still dulled activity. The results are already in existence. What we described in previous lectures as inner members of the human being were only able to come about because of this work by the ego. From the astral body it fashioned the sentient soul as inner mirror-image, as it were, of the sentient body. Whilst the sentient body transmits gratification (sentient body and astral body are synonymous as regards man; without the sentient body we would have no gratification), this is mirrored internally in the soul as desire — and it is desire which we then ascribe to the soul. Thus the two things belong together: the astral body and the transformed astral body or sentient soul, as gratification and desire belong together. In a similar way the ego was working in the past already on the ether body. This created internally in the soul of the human being the intellectual or mind soul. Thus the intellectual soul, which is also the bearer of memory, is linked with the subconscious transformation of the ether body by the ego. And finally, the ego has been working in the past also on the transformation of the physical body in order to enable the existence of the human being in his present form. The result of that transformation is the consciousness soul, which permits the human being to gain knowledge about the things of the outside world. The seven-membered human being can therefore be characterised as follows: through the preparative, subconscious activity of the ego the three soul members have been created; the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul.
The question may now be asked: are not the physical body, ether body and astral body complex entities? What a miracle of construction is the physical human body! And if we examined it more closely, we would find that this physical body is much more complex than that part alone which the ego has transformed into the consciousness soul and which can be called the physical form of the consciousness soul. Similarly the ether body is much more complex than that which might be called the form of the intellectual or mind soul. And the astral body too is much more complex than the form of the sentient soul. These parts are poor in comparison to what was in existence before the human being had an ego. That is why in spiritual science we speak of the human being as having developed in the distant past from spiritual beings the first predisposition for a physical body. To this was added the ether body, then still later the astral body, and finally the ego. The physical body of the human being has thus passed through four stages of development. First there was a direct correspondence with the spiritual world; then it developed and was interwoven and transfused with the ether body. It therefore became more complex. Then it became interwoven with the astral body which made it more complex again. Then the ego was added. And only the work of the latter on the physical body transformed part of the physical body and made it into the bearer of human consciousness: the ability to gain knowledge of the outer world. But this physical body has more functions than providing us with a knowledge of the outside world by means of our senses and our brain. It has to fulfil a number of activities which form the basis of our consciousness but which take place completely outside the sphere of the brain. The same applies to the ether body and the astral body.
If the fact is now quite clear that everything which surrounds us in the outside world is spirit, that there is a spiritual foundation to everything material, etheric and astral, as we have emphasised so often, then we have to say: the ego works as a spiritual being from the inside outwards, as the human being develops the three members of his being; in a similar manner — whether we call them spiritual beings or spiritual actions is not important — must have been working on our physical, ether and astral bodies before the ego emerged, which then took over this development. We are looking back at a time in which the same action on our astral body, ether body and physical body occurred as today is done by the ego outwards into these three members. That is to say, before the ego was ready to establish itself within them, spiritual creation, spiritual actions, worked on our sheaths and gave them form, movement, shape. There are spiritual actions in the human being which occur before the activities of the ego, if we exclude for a moment all that which our ego has transformed in the three members of our being as sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul, and regard the construction, the inner movement and action of these three sheaths of the human being.
That is why in spiritual science we talk of the human being as he is today as being an individual soul, a soul transfused with an ego, which makes every human being into a self-contained individuality. Before the human being became such a self-contained ego-being, he was part of a “group-soul”, part of a quality of soul which we still refer to today in the animal world as group-soul. 3 Cf. the lecture “Die Seele der Tiere im Lichte der Geisteswissenschaft”, Berlin, 23rd January 1908, in: Die Erkenntnis der Seele und, des Geistes, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland. (GA 56) What occurs in the human being as individual soul in each person, that occurs in the animal world as the basis of the whole species or family. A whole species of animal has a common group-soul. The individual human soul is equivalent to the soul of the species in the animal. Thus before man became an individual soul another soul was working in the three members of his being of which we have knowledge today only through spiritual science, a soul which was the precursor of our individual ego. And this precursor of our ego, which then passed on to the ego the physical body, ether body and astral body in order that the ego might continue to transform them, this group-soul also transformed from within itself the physical body, ether body and astral body and ordered them according to itself. And the final activity of the human being before he was endowed with an ego, the final influence which lies before the birth of the ego, is present today in what we call human language. When we therefore consider what preceded the life of our consciousness soul, our intellectual or mind soul and our sentient soul, we come across an activity of the soul which is not yet transfused by the ego and its result is present today in the expression of language.
What is the outward appearance of the four members of the human being? How are they expressed purely outwardly in the physical body? The physical body of a plant looks different from the physical body of a human being. Why? Because in the plant only the physical body and the ether body are present, whereas in the human physical body the astral body and the ego are present as well. This inward activity forms and refashions the physical body correspondingly. How is the physical body affected when it is permeated by an ether or life body?
The glandular system is the outward physical expression in man and animal of the ether or life body; that is to say, the ether body is the architect of the glandular system. The astral body formed the nervous system. That is why it is correct to talk of a nervous system only in those beings where an astral body is present. What, now, is the expression in the human being of his ego? It is the circulatory system and specifically what might be called the blood under the special influence of the inner life warmth. All the work which the ego does on the human being when it transforms the physical body is channelled via the blood. That is why the blood is of such special nature. When the ego transforms the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul, then all the work that the ego achieves only penetrates into the physical body because the ego has the ability to affect the physical body via the blood. Our blood is the mediator for the astral body and the ego and all their activity.
There can be no doubt if we look at human life, even on a superficial level only, that the human being transforms the physical body with the ego in the same way as he transforms the consciousness soul, the intellectual soul and the sentient soul. Who would deny that the physiognomy expresses what lives and works inwardly. And who would deny that inward thinking, if it takes hold completely of the soul, transforms the brain even in the course of one life. Our brain is a tool which adapts to the requirements of our thinking. But if we consider the amount which the human being can transform, artistically fashion as it were, his outer being through the ego, it is very small. It is very little which we can do with our blood by setting the blood in motion with what we call our inner warmth. Those spiritual beings which preceded our ego managed to achieve more, for they were able to make use of a more effective means; thus the human form took shape under their influence in such a way that it is an overall expression of what those forces made of the human being. These beings used the substance of air. In the same way that we use the inner warmth to make our blood pulse — thus making the blood active in our own form — the beings working on us previous to our ego made the air serve their purpose. And the work of these beings on us through air created what gives us our form as human beings.
It might seem strange that we speak of spiritual forces working on the human being in the far distant past through air. But it is not the first time I have said that it is a misjudgement to think of the soul and spirit life of our inner being only as product of the imagination, and not to realise that it has been taken from the outside world as a whole. Whoever states that concepts and ideas could arise in us without ideas existing in the outside world might just as well say that he can take water from a glass in which there is none. Our concepts would be nothing more than froth if they were anything other than what lives in outside things and what is present in those things as their laws. We fetch that which we allow to develop in our souls from our environment. That is why we can say: everything material which surrounds us is interwoven with spiritual beings.
Strange as it may sound, what surrounds us as air is not merely the substance as shown by chemistry, but spiritual beings and spiritual forces are active in it. And in the same way that we can transform our physical body a small amount by the warmth which streams forth from our ego — that is the essential element — in the blood, the beings which preceded the ego formed in a powerful way the outer form of our physical being by means of the air. We are human beings because of our larynx and everything connected with that. The larynx, sculpted from outside into us as this wonderful artistic organ and connected with the other vocal and speech organs, was created from the spiritual element in the air. Goethe said very aptly with reference to the eye: “The eye is fashioned by the light for the light!” 4 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Entwurf einer Farbenlehre”, des ersten Bandes erster, didaktischer Teil, in: Goethes Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, ed. Rudolf Steiner, reprint Dornach 1975, vol. 111, P.88. If, in the sense of Schopenhauer, 5 Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788–1860, German philosopher. it is now stressed that without an eye sensitive to light there would be no impression of light for us, then this is only half the truth. The other half is that we would have no eye if the light had not sculpted, as it were, our eyes from undefined organs in the far distant past. Light must therefore be seen not only as the abstract entity which is described today as physical light; but in light we have to search for that hidden being which is capable of creating the eye for itself.
Similarly we can say in another respect that the air is full of beings which were able at certain times to create in the human being the intricate organ of the larynx and all that is connected with it. And the rest of the human form to the smallest detail has been formed and sculpted in such a manner that man in his present stage is a further development of his speech organs, as it were. The speech organs are something decisive for the human form in the first instance. That is why it is speech that transcends man above the animals. For the spiritual being which we call the spirit of the air also fashioned the animals, but not to such a level where they could develop the facility of speech such as the human being has it. We see that the human being had internally already developed his speech organs by the time that he developed his present thinking, his feelings and his will, that is to say, everything connected with his ego. Now it can be understood why these spiritual forces could only work on the physical body in such a manner that the human being finally became like an appendix to his speech organs, because they developed the astral body, ether body and physical body through the influence, the configuration of the air. After the human being had become capable of having within him an organ which corresponded to what we have called the spiritual beings of the air, in the same way that the eye corresponds to the spiritual beings of the light, he could fashion into this what the ego developed in itself as reason, as consciousness, feeling, emotion. Thus there is a threefold activity in the subconscious; activity on the physical body, the ether body and the astral body which existed previous to the ego. We can recognise this if we know that it was the group-soul and that the group-soul worked in an imperfect manner in the animal.
This has to be taken into consideration if we regard the work of the spiritual forces occurring before the ego in the astral body. We have to exclude everything concerning the self and observe the work done by the group-self from dark foundations. Desire and gratification face each other in the astral body on a level of imperfection. Desire was able to become a soul quality, an inner faculty, because it already had a precursor in the astral body of the human being.
Similar to desire and gratification in the astral body, imagery, symbolism, and outer stimulus face each other in the ether body. It is most important to distinguish the activity of our ether body preceding the ego from the activity of the ego in the ether body. When the ego is active as intellectual or mind soul, then, at the present stage of development of the human being, it seeks a truth which is as nearly as possible a true picture of the outer world. Those things which do not exactly correspond to outward things are not called “true”. The spiritual activities which lie before the advent of our ego do not work in this manner; they work more symbolically, in the image, rather like a dream works. A dream works in the following manner, for example, that someone dreams of a shot being fired; and when he wakes up he sees that the chair next to the bed has fallen over. What is outer happening and outer impression — the falling over of the chair — is transformed into an image in the dream, into the shot. In this way the spiritual beings preceding the ego work symbolically in the same way that we will work again when we achieve a higher spiritual activity by initiation; here we try — but this time with full consciousness — to work towards a symbolic view, an imaginative conception, away from the purely abstract outside world.
Then the spiritual beings working in the human physical body transformed it into what might be called a correspondence of outer events, outer facts, and imitation. Imitation is something which we find in the child, for example, when the other soul members are still hardly developed. Imitation is something that belongs to the subconscious human nature. That is why education should start with imitation, because before the ego begins to create order in the human being, the drive to imitate is present as a natural drive.
The drive to imitate in the physical body in contrast to outer activities, symbolising in the ether body in contrast to outer stimulus, and the correspondence of desire and gratification in the astral body all have to be considered as having been created with the aid of the tool of air — and having been created in such a manner that a sculpted, an artistic impression as it were, has been created in our larynx and in the whole of the speech apparatus. It can then be said: these beings preceding the ego worked on the human being in such a manner that they formed and ordered him such that the air could come to expression in him in this threefold direction.
For when we look at language capability in the true sense of the word, we have to ask: does it consist of the sound which we utter? No, it is not the sound. Our ego sets in motion what has been created into us by the air. In the same way that we move the eye to take in the outward light, whilst the eye itself exists to take light in, our ego within us sets in motion those organs which have been formed by the spiritual beings in the air. We set the organs in motion by the ego; we activate the organs which correspond to the spirit of the air and we have to wait until the spirit of the air who formed the organs sounds back at us the tone as an echo of our action on the air. We do not produce the tone, just as the individual parts of a pipe do not produce the tone. Our ego develops activity by the use of those organs which have been created from the spirit of the air. Then we have to wait for the latter to set the air in motion again such that the word sounds by the original activity which produced the organs.
Thus we can indeed see that human language must rest on the threefold correspondence which was mentioned. How does this correspondence work?
Imitation in the physical body rests on the speech organs imitating those things which are outward activities, outward objects which make an impression on us, and producing them as sound in the same way that a painter imitates a scene which consists of quite different constituents than paint, canvas, light and dark. Similar to the painter who imitates with light and dark we imitate the environment with our organs which were formed from elements of the air. That is why what we produce in sound is a true imitation of the essence of an object; and our vowels and consonants are nothing but images and imitations of those things which make an impression on us from the outside.
The next thing is the image in the ether body, what we might call symbolism. The first elements of our language were created by imitation, but then this developed further by tearing itself away, as it were, from outward impressions. The ether body assimilates — such as in the dream — those things which no longer correspond to outer experiences; that is the developing element in sound. Initially the ether body assimilates the pure imitation; then the imitation is transformed in the ether body so that it becomes something independent and, because it has been through an internal process, corresponds to outward impressions only symbolically as image: we are no longer merely imitators.
And thirdly, desire, emotion, everything which lives internally is expressed in the astral body. This works in such a manner that it continues to transform the sound. The internal experiences flow from the inside into the sound: pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, desires, wishes; all these things stream into the sound and bring the subjective element into it. What started as pure imitation was then transformed into the language symbol in the independent sound or word image and is now transformed further by the infusion of the human being's internal experiences. It always has to be an outward correspondence which provokes the sound in the soul; when the soul expresses its inward experiences, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow and all the others, in sound it has to search for a corresponding outer form. At the first stage the outer impression is imitated. The inner sound image or the creation of the symbol is the next step. But the inner experiences, such as joy and sorrow, by their nature have no outer equivalent. This correspondence between outer being and inner experience can be observed with children as they learn to speak. One can see how the child begins to transform a feeling into a sound. When the child initially calls “ma” or “pa” then this is only the inner transformation of an emotion into sound. It is only the expression of something inward. But when the child expresses itself in this way and the mother, for example, comes, the child notices how its inward feeling of pleasure, which is transformed into the sound “ma”, corresponds to an outer event. Of course the child does not enquire how it happens that in this case there is a correspondence with the coming of the mother. The inner experience of pleasure or pain is allied with an outward impression and thus what streams out from the inside is united with the outer impression. That is the third way in which language acts. It is therefore true to say that language originated equally by internal imitation of the outside and by outward reality being linked to our inner experience. The process which happens in innumerable cases, and which is completed when the inner expression “ma” or “pa” is formed into the words “mama” or “papa”, and is satisfied when the father or mother responds. Every time that the human being realises that something happens as a result of an inner expression, the expression of that inner event unites for him with something outward.
All this takes place without any participation by the ego. It is only at a later stage that the ego takes over this activity. Thus the forces in existence previous to the ego were at work in the configuration which lies at the base of the human language ability. And because the ego took over when the basis for human language had already been created, language then ordered itself according to the ego. Therefore the expression connected with the sentient body is transfused by the sentient soul; the images and symbols connected with the ether body are transfused by the intellectual soul: the human being fills the sound with the experiences of the intellectual soul, and similarly he fills it with the experiences of the consciousness soul, which were initially only imitation. By this process gradually those areas of our language came into existence which represents inner experiences of the soul.
That is why, regarding the nature of language, it must be quite clearly understood that there is something in us which was there before the ego, which was then developed by the ego. But then, also, it cannot be claimed that language directly represents the ego, that it represents the spiritual aspect in us, everything which is intimate to our personality; but it must be understood that we can never see in language an immediate expression of the ego. The spirit of language works symbolically in the ether body, imitatively in the physical body; and this is linked with its creative activity in the sentient soul, forcing the inward experiences from it in such a manner that the sound is an expression of the inner life. In sum, language did not develop according to the conscious ego as it is today, but, if the development of language is to be compared to anything at all, its development can only be compared to artistic creation. Just as we cannot demand that the imitation of the artist corresponds to reality, we cannot demand that language copies those things which it is meant to represent. Language only imitates the outside world in a way similar to the picture, to the way that the artist as such imitates outside reality. Before the human being was a self-conscious being in the way that he is today, an artist was at work in him, active as the spirit of language, and our ego is embedded in a place where previously an artist was at work. This in itself is put rather in the form of an image, but it expresses the truth in this field. We observe an unconscious activity and feel that here there is something which created the human being as a work of art. In this respect we must not forget that we can only examine each work of art as permitted by the methods of that art. If this were born in mind, it would preclude from the beginning such pedantic works as Fritz Mauthner's “Kritik der Sprache”. 6 Fritz Mauthner, 1849–1923. A new edition of this work, Die Kritik der Sprache, was just being published in 1910. Here the critique of language is based on quite wrong premises; namely, that if we regard human languages they do not in any way represent objective reality. But is that their function in the first place? There is just as little possibility for language to represent reality as there is of the picture representing outward reality in the colours on the canvas and the use of light and shadow. The spirit of language which lies at the foundation of human activity has to be grasped with artistic feeling.
Only a brief outline of these things has been given. But if one knows that an artist who formed language was active in mankind then one can understand — as different as the various languages may be — that even in the individual human languages the artistic element was at work in all sorts of differing ways. Then it can be understood how the spirit of language — let us call this being working in the air the spirit of language — when it reveals itself on a relatively low level in the human being works in an atomistic way by wanting to construct everything from the single parts. That is how it comes about that the individual sounds combine to form a whole sentence.
If, for example, we take the sounds “shi” and “pian” in Chinese, we have two atoms of language formation; the one syllable “shi” means song, poem, and “pian” means book. If we combine the two sounds, “shi-pian”, then this would be the same as creating the combination “poem-book” in English; something results from the particles which, seen as a whole, produces poetry book. This is only one example of how the Chinese language forms its concepts and ideas.
If we reflect on the things which we have considered today, we can also now understand how a wonderfully formed language such as a Semitic one must be considered in its essence. In Semitic languages we have certain sounds as a foundation which are really only constituted of consonants. And then the human being inserts vowels in between these consonants. If we thus take the consonants q, t, l, just as an example, and insert an a and then another a, then, whilst the word formed purely from the consonants is only an imitation of an outward sound, the word “qatal”, to kill, is created by the addition of the vowels.
We thus have a noteworthy development in that “to kill” as a complex of sounds comes about initially by the speech organs simply imitating the outward process. Then the soul continues the process and the inward experience is added with the vowels: the complex of sounds is further developed so that “to kill” is referred back to a subject. This is basically the constitution of the Semitic languages and in it is expressed the combination of the various elements in language formation within the framework of language. Symbolism (i.e. that which is found at work in the ether body as the spirit of language), which is the primary agent in Semitic languages, demonstrates the particular aspect of the Semitic languages which takes the individual imitative sounds one step further and transforms them into symbols by the insertion of vowels.
That is why fundamentally all words in Semitic languages are formed in such a way that they relate to the surroundings of the outside world as symbols. In contrast, everything which appears in the Indo-Germanic languages is prompted more by what we have called the inner expression of the astral body, the inner being. For the astral body is something which is already connected with the consciousness. When one faces the outside world one contrasts oneself with it. If one faces the outside world from the point of view of the ether body one fuses with it, is one with it. Only when things are reflected in the consciousness does a difference exist between oneself and things. This working of the astral body with all its inner experiences can be seen in the Indo-Germanic languages in contrast to the Semitic languages in that they have the verb “to be”: a reflection of independent existence. That is possible because we are able to separate ourselves from outward impressions with our consciousness. If, therefore, we want to say for example “God is good” in Semitic, then this is not immediately possible because there is no way of producing the word “is” as an expression of being, for this originates in the contrast of astral body and outside world. The ether body simply states. That is why in the Semitic languages one would have to say “God the good”. The contrast of subject and object is not a characteristic element. The languages which are in contrast with the outside world, which contain as an essential element the perception of an outside world, are particularly the Indo-Germanic languages. They in turn affect the human being in such a way that they support inwardness, i.e. all those things which provide the foundations for developing a strong personality, a strong ego. This is already evident in the language.
All the things which I have spoken about might be considered by some to be only unsatisfactory indications for the simple reason that one would have to speak for two weeks if one wanted to describe everything in this field in detail. Nevertheless, those who have attended these lectures more regularly and who have penetrated into the essential nature of the matter will see that such indications are not unjustified. They are only intended to show how a spiritual-scientific view of language can be provoked which fundamentally shows that language cannot be understood in any other way than in an artistic sense, which must be developed. That is why all scholarship must fail if it is not willing to participate in the creative act which was undertaken by the forces creating language in the human being before the ego became active in us. Only a creative faculty can grasp the secret of language, because only a creative faculty as such can recreate. No learned abstraction can ever bring about comprehension of a work of art. Only those ideas illuminate a work of art which are able to recreate in a fruitful way as ideas the things which the artist expresses by other means paint, sound, etc. Creative feeling alone can comprehend the artist, and a creative feeling for language alone can understand the spiritual creativity in the origin of language. That is one of the tasks which spiritual science is called upon to do in respect of language.
The other task is something which is of significance on a practical level. If we understand how language originated from an inner pre-human artist, then we can also elevate ourselves to make this creative feeling become active where we want to express something of validity in language. But there is little feeling for that in our present time, where not much progress has been achieved in fostering a living feeling for language. 7 In 1898 already Rudolf Steiner wrote in his essay “Noch ein Wort über die Vortragskunst”: “Artistic speech is often considered today to be failed idealism”. In: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Dramaturgie 1889–1900, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland. (GA 29) Today everyone who opens his mouth feels that he is able to express all things. But it must be understood quite clearly that we have to create again in our soul an immediate connection between what we want to express and how we want to express it. We have to re-awaken the linguistic artist in us in all areas. Today human beings are satisfied if what they want to say comes out in any way, no matter what form it takes. How many people realise — which is absolutely necessary in the field of spiritual science — that an artistic feeling for language is necessary to express anything? If true presentations of spiritual-scientific material, for example, are examined, 8 Cf. also chapter 33 of Rudolf Steiner, An Autobiography, Steiner Books, New York, 1980. it will be found that the true spiritual scientists who have written these things also seriously worked on them to form each sentence creatively, that the position of the verb is not an arbitrary decision. Each sentence will be seen as a birth, because it must be experienced inwardly in the soul as immediate form, not simply as a thought. And the sentences are connected not only consecutively, but the third one has to be formed in essence at the same time as the first one because they are interconnected in their effect. In spiritual science it is impossible to work without a creatively active sense of language. Everything else is inadequate. It is important to free oneself of being slavishly tied to words. But we cannot do that if we think that any word is suitable to express a given thought; that already is an error in our linguistic creativity. The expression of super-sensible facts cannot be gained from words which are coined only with a view to the sense world. If the question is asked “How is one to express the ether body or the astral body in a concrete manner in reality by means of a word?” nothing of this has been understood. Only the person has understood something of this who says: I will understand what the ether body is if in the first instance I investigate from one particular aspect and it is quite clear that I am dealing with artistically formed reflected images; and then I investigate three more aspects. The matter has then been presented from four different sides. When it is thereafter expressed in language, in walking round the topic as it were, we are presenting an artistic image of the matter. If one is not aware of this, nothing will be achieved but abstractions and a sclerotic reproduction of what is previously known. That is why development in spiritual science will always be connected with what might be called “development of the inward sense and the inward creative power of language”. In this sense spiritual science will have a fruitful effect on style in language, will transform the terrible linguistic style of today which is ignorant of the creativity of language, and fewer people, who can hardly speak and write, will embark on literary careers. The awareness has been lost today, for example, that to write prose is something much more elevated than writing in verse; only the prose which is written today is on a much lower level. But it is the purpose of spiritual science to act as a stimulus in those fields which are connected with the deepest secrets of mankind. For spiritual science will be active in those areas in such a way that it fulfils the visions of the greatest personalities. Spiritual science will conquer the super-sensible worlds through the thinking, will become capable of decanting the thought in such a way into the sound structure that our language too can again become a means of communication of the experiences of the soul in the super-sensible. 9 Rudolf Steiner repeatedly noted in his later work that for example the 7th scene of his mystery drama “The Portal of Initiation” (in: Rudolf Steiner, Four Mystery Plays, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1983) showed in the most direct sense this transformation of spiritual experience into sound. Then spiritual science will have become the agent which makes real what is expressed about an important realm of the inner human being in the words:
Unmeasurably deep is the thought;
And its winged agent is the word. 10Friedrich von Schiller, Poetry in Homage to the Arts (Die Huldigung der Künste).