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The Impulse for Renewal in Culture and Science
GA 81

VII. Anthroposophy and the Science of Speech

11 March 1922, Berlin

My dear venerated guests! The organisers of this university course have asked me to introduce the reflections of the day through some remarks and so I will introduce today's work in a certain aphoristic manner to open our discussion. I am aware that this is no easy task at present. Once in Stuttgart I gave a short course to a smaller circle regarding the items I want to talk about today and it became clear to me that one really needs a lot of time to discuss such controversial things as we would like to talk about today. So I'm only going to suggest a few things about the spirit of our reflection which is required by Anthroposophy in relation to observing human speech.

When speech is the subject and when one sets the goal to treat speech scientifically, then one must be clear that it is not as easy to have speech as an object for scientific treatment as it is for instance about human beings relating to nature or to the physical nature of the human being. In these cases, one has at least a clear outline for the observation of the object. Certainly one can discuss to what a degree observation lies at its foundation, or if it is merely a process being grasped through human research capabilities of an unknown origin. However, this is then a discussion which happens purely within the course of thought. What is presented as an object of observation is a closed object, a given.

This is not the case in spoken language. A large part of speech means that through a person speaking, something is unfolding which was already in the subconscious regions of the human soul life. Something strikes upward from these subconscious regions and what rises, connects to conscious elements which gradually, like harmonics, move with it in an unconscious or subconscious stream. That which is momentarily present in the consciousness, what is present as we speak, that is only partially the actual object essential for our observation. One can, if one remains within the current speech habits of people, acquire a certain possibility of bringing language as an object into consciousness, also when one is speaking. I would like to present in a modest way an example which could perhaps illustrate this.

During Christmas in Dornach I held a lecture cycle at the Goetheanum regarding pedagogical didactic themes. This lecture cycle came about as a request which resulted in a row of English teachers coming to the lectures which they had asked for. When it became known that this course was going to take place, people from other countries in western and middle Europe, namely Switzerland, also gathered to listen to the lectures. Because this course couldn't contain the 900 visitors in the large auditorium of the Goetheanum, but could only be held in a smaller hall, I was notified to give the lectures twice, one after the other. Already before this I believed that to a certain degree it would be necessary to separate the English speakers from those who belonged to other nationalities—not out of political grounds; I stressed this clearly. The lecture cycle was given throughout also for the English speakers; because when people want to hear something about Anthroposophy, wherever it is presented, I always speak German to them. I thought this was something through which its “Germanic” nature could be documented, whereby the German character and German language can be served.

In one of these lectures I had to discuss ethical and moral education. I tried in the course of the lectures to show how the child can be guided in these steps inwardly in its earthly life, which could bring about a certain ethical and moral attitude in the child.

If I would today again speak in front of individuals who listen in the same way as some had listened yesterday, then one could again construe that I spoke out of direct experience, as it happened yesterday, when I spoke about the Trinity. However, Dr Rittelmeyer responded so clearly with a comparison between the book and the mind, which understandably I didn't wish to do.

In this lecture I want to indicate the ethical, moral education towards which the child needs to be orientated so that it is done in the right way: feelings of gratitude, interest in the world, love for the world and his or her own activity and action; and I would like to show how, through love imbuing their activity and actions they are steered to something which can be called human duty. It would be necessary for this trinity to be taken directly out of life's experience and express them in three words—we're talking about language here. I arrived at the first two steps, Gratitude and Love, then the third step: Duty. Despite having to give the lecture twice, once from 10 to 11 o'clock for the English audience, and a second time from 11 to 12 for other nationalities, the latter with their frame of mind being that of central Europeans, I actually had to do these lectures which should simply have been parallel, in quite a different way for the English than for the Germans because I needed to make an effort to live into the mood of my audience. Something similar applied to the other days but on this day, it was particularly necessary.

Why was this so? Yes, while I spoke about duty during the hour from 11 to 12, my entire audience experienced it through words of the German language; I had spoken in the first hour from 10 to 11 what I had to say about their experience of the “Pflicht”-impulse, which they call “duty.” Now it is quite a different experience when one expresses the word “Pflicht” to the word “duty” and in the 11 to 12 o'clock lecture I had to allow nuances of experience to flow into what happens when one says “Pflicht.” When one says “Pflicht” one touches an impulse through these words which comes out of the emotional life, which flows directly into experience as something—which I want to say verbatim—is related to “pflegen” (to care for). Out of this activity flows the feeling, as to what belongs to this activity. This is the impulse which one designates to the word “Pflicht.” Something quite different lives in the soul when this impulse is designated by the word “duty,” because just as much as the word “Pflicht” points to the feelings, so the word “duty” points to the intellect, to the mind, to what is directed from within, like how thoughts are being conducted when one goes over into activity. One could say “Pflicht” is fulfilled through inner love and devotion, duty is fulfilled from the basis of a human being, when sensing his human dignity, must say to himself: you must obey a law which penetrates you, you must devote yourself to the law which you have grasped intellectually. This is roughly characterised. However, with this I want to bring into expression how inner complexes of experience are quite different between one word and another, and yet despite this the dictionary says the German word “Pflicht” translates to the English word of “duty”. This is however transmitted by the spirit of the folk, in the folk soul and in the speech, you have nuances of the entire folk soul. You are going to see that in the soul of central Europeans, in relation to this, it looks quite different compared with souls of other nationalities; that the soul life is experienced quite differently in speech by central Europeans compared with the English nation.

A person who has no sense for the unconscious depths of soul where speech comes from, which lies deeper than what is experienced consciously, will actually be unable to obtain a sober objectivity for scientific observation of speech. One should be clear about one thing. With nature observation the objects present themselves, or one can clean them up through outer handling in order to have the object outside oneself and thus able to research it. To consider speech it is necessary to first examine the process of consciousness in order to come to what the object essentially is which one wants to examine. So one can, where speech is the subject, not merely consider what lives in human consciousness, but in considering speech one needs to have the entire living person before you who expresses himself in speaking and speech.

This preparation for the scientific speech observation is very rarely done. If such preparation would be undertaken then one would, if one takes linguistic history or comparative linguistics, move towards having a deep need to first contemplate the inner unconscious content of that language, the unconscious substance which in speaking only partly comes to expression.

Now we arrive at something else, namely, during the various stages of human development this degree of consciousness associated with language was quite varied. It was quite different for example during the times in which Sanskrit had its origins; different again during the time the Greek language developed, another time than we had here in Germany—but here nuances became gradually less recognisable—and in another time, it happened for instance in England. There are already great variations in the inner experience of the conduct in the English language when used by an Englishman or American, if I observe only the larger differences. Whoever takes up the study of dialects will enter into how the different dialects in the language is experienced by the people who use it, and take note of all the complicated soul impulses streaming through it which comes into expression as speech in the vocal organism. It is for instance not pointless that when the Greek speakers say “speech” (Sprache) or when they say “reason” (Vernunft), they consider both these words as essentially the same and can condense them into one word, because the experience within the words and the experience within thoughts, within mental images, flow together, undifferentiated, in the Greek application of speech, while in our current epoch differentiations show themselves in this regard. The Greek always felt words themselves rolled around in his mind when he spoke; for him thoughts were the “soul” and words streaming in formed the “body”, the outer garments one could call it, the word-soul streaming in thought. Today we feel, when we clearly bring this process into consciousness, as if on the one side we would say a word—the word streams towards what we express—and on the other side the thoughts swim in the stream of words; it is however soon clearly differentiated from the stream of words.

If we return for instance to Sanskrit then it is necessary to undergo essential psychological processes first, to experience psychic processes, in order to reach the possibility to live inwardly with what at the time of Sanskrit's origin was living in the words. We may not at any stage confront Sanskrit with the same feelings when regarding its expression, when regarding its language, as we would do with a language today.

Let's take for example a familiar word: “manas”. If you now open the dictionary you would find a multitude of words for “manas”: spirit, mind, mindset, sometimes also anger, zeal and so on. Basically, with such a translation one arrives at an experience of a word which once upon a time existed when it was quite clearly and inwardly experienced, not nearly. Within the epoch when Sanskrit lived at the height of its vitality, with a different soul constitution as it has today, it was essentially something different. We must clearly understand that human evolution already existed as a deep transformation of the human soul constitution. I have repetitively characterized this transformation as having taken place somewhere in the 15th Century. There are however ever and again such boundaries of the epochs when going through human evolution, and only when one can follow history as the inner soul life of the people can one discover what really existed and how the life of speech played its part.

It was during such a time when the word “manas” could still be grasped inwardly in a vital way, when something existed which I would like to call the experience of the meaning of sound. In an unbelievable intense way one experienced what lived inwardly in the sounds, which we designate today as m, as a, as n and as s. The life of soul rose to a higher level—still dreamily, yet in a conscious dream—with its inward living within the organism when the vocals and consonants were pronounced. Whoever uses such scientific tools for researching how speech lives within people, will find that everything resembling consonants depends upon people placing themselves into external processes, into things, and that the inner life of things with their own inner, but restrained gestures, want to copy it. Consonants are restrained gestures, gestures not becoming visible but which through their content certainly capture that which can outwardly be experienced in the role of thunder, lightning flashes, in the rolling wind and so on. An inner inclusion of oneself in outer things is available when consonants are experienced.

We actually want to, if I might express myself like this, imitate through gestures all that lives and weaves outside of us; but we restrain our gestures and they transform themselves within us and this transformation appears as consonants.

By contrast, by opposing external nature, mankind has living within itself a number of sympathies and antipathies. These sympathies and antipathies within their most inner existence form gestures out of the collective vowel system, so that the human being, through experiencing speech, lives in such a way that he, within the nature of the consonants, imitate the outer world—but in a transformed way—so that in contrast, through the vowels, he forms his own inner relationship to the outer world.

This is something which can certainly be understood and examined through today's soul life if one enters into the concrete facts of the speech experience. It deals with what is illustrated as imagination, not as some or other fantasy, but that for example the inner process of the speech experience can really be looked at.

Now in ancient times, in which Sanskrit had its original source, there was still something like a dreamlike imagination living within the human soul. Not a clearly delineated mental picture like we have today was part of man, but a life in pictures, in imaginations—certainly not the kind of imaginations we talk about in Anthroposophy today, which are fully conscious with our sharply outlined concepts, but dreamlike instinctive imaginations. Still, these dreamlike imaginations worked as a power. If we go back up to the time we are talking about, one can say these imaginations lived as a vital power in people: they sensed it, like they sensed hunger and thirst, only in a gentler manner. One painted in an internal manner, which is not painting as in today's sense, but in such a way as to experience the inward application of vocalisation, like we apply colour to a surface. Then one lives into the consonants through the vocalization, just as when, by placing one colour beside another, one brings about boundaries and contours. It is an inner re-experience of imaginations, which presents an objective re-living of outer nature. It is the re-living of dreamlike imaginations. One surrenders oneself to these imaginations and inverts the inner processed imaginations through the speech organs into words.

Only in this way does one imagine the inner process of the life of speech in the way it was once experienced in human evolution. If one becomes serious about such an observation, for example through the experience of tones, which we call ‘m’ today, we notice that with the experience of this sound, we stand at once on the boundary between what is consonant and what is vowel. Just like we paint a picture and then the colours, which have their inner boundaries and outer limitations and do not continue over the surface, just so something is expressed in the word “manas”. With ‘a’ something resembling human inwardness is sensed. If one wishes to describe the word “manas” I have to say: In olden times people lived in their dream-like imaginations in the language, just as we experience speech consciously now. We no longer live in relation to speech in dream pictures, but our consciousness lies over speech. Old dreamlike imaginations flowed continuously in the language. So when they said the word “manas” they felt as if in some kind of shell, they felt their physical human body in as far as it is liquid aqueous, like a kind of shell, and the rest of the body as if carried in a kind of air body. All of this was experienced in a dreamlike manner in olden times when the word “manas” was spoken out. People didn't feel like we do today in our soul life, because people felt themselves to be the bearers of the soul life—and the soul itself one experienced as having been born out of the supersensible and super-human forces of the shell.

You must first make this experience lively if you want to understand the content of older words. We must realise that when we experience our “I” today it is quite different from what it was when the word “ego” was for instance come across in humanity in earlier times, when the word “aham” was experienced in the Sanskrit language. We sense our “I” today as something which is completely drawn to a single point, a central point to which our inner being and all our soul forces relate.

This experience does not underlie the older revelations of the I-concept. In these olden times a person felt his own I as something which had to be carried; one didn't feel as if you were within it. One then experienced the I to some extent as a surging of soul life swimming independently. What one felt was not indicated by the linguistic context—what lay in the Sanskrit word “aham” shows it is something around the I, which carries the I . While we feel the I inwardly as will impulses—we really experience it this way today—which permeates our inner being, we say that as its central point it is a spring of warmth, which streams with warmth—to make a comparison—streaming out on all sides, this is how the Greek or even the Latin experienced the I like a sphere of water, with air permeating this sphere completely. It is something quite different to feel yourself living in a sphere of water within extended air, or to experience the inward streaming towards a central point of warmth and to stream out warmth to the periphery of the sphere and then—if I might use this comparison more precisely—to be grasped as a sphere of light.

These are all symbols. Yet the words of a language are in this sense also symbols, and if you deny the ability of words to indicate symbols, you would be totally unable to be impressed by such a consideration. It is necessary in the research of linguistics that one first lives into what actually has to become the object of linguistics. Now, one finds that in ancient times, the language had a considerably different character than what exists in civilisation's current language; further, one finds that the physical, the bodily, played a far greater part in the establishment of phonetics, in the establishment of word configuration. The human being gave much more of his inner life in speech. That is why you have ‘m’ at the start of “manas” because this enclosed the human being, formed a contour around him or her.

When you have Sanskrit terms in front of yourself, you soon notice you can experience the nature of the consonants and vowels within it. You notice how in this activity an inner experience in the external events and external things are present and how this results in the consonants being imitated, so vocal sympathies and antipathies are discovered where the word process and the speech process merge. In ancient times a much more bodily nuance came about. One had a far greater experience in the ancient life of speech. This one can still experience. If today you hear someone speaking in Sanskrit or the language of an oriental civilisation, how it sounds out of their bodily nature, and how speech absorbs the musical characteristics, it is because such an experience rises out of the musical element. Only in a later phase of human evolution the musical elements in speech split away from the logical, thus also away from the soul life, into mere conceptions.

This is still noticeable today. When for instance you compare the inner experience in the German and in the English language, you notice that in the English language the process of abstract-imagery-life have made greater progress. If we want to live in the German language today we must live into those forms of the speech which came about in New High German.1Hochdeutch or High German is the pure German language without the influence of dialects, which is also understood by most Germans. New High German differs from Old High German as the latter refers to more historic times. Schriftliche Deutch is the German most widely used in school instruction, standardization, etc.—translator The dialects still lets our soul become immersed in a far more intensive and vital experience. The actual spiritual experience of the language is primarily only possible in High German. Thus, a figure such as Hegel who was born out of this spirit, for whom the mental images are particular to him and yet it is also quite connected to a particular element within the language, out of these causes it has come about that Hegel is in reality not translatable into a western language, because here one experiences the literal fluency (Sprachliche) even more directly.

When you go towards the west you notice throughout within the observation how the soul unfolds when it is given over to the use of language: the soul experiences it intensively, however the literal fluency (Sprachliche) is thrown out of the direct soul experience throughout; it flows away in the stream of speech and continuously, to some degree, out of the flowing water something is created like ice floes, like when something more solid is rolling over the waves—as for instance in English. When, by contrast, we speak High German, we can observe how a person in the stream of speech is in any case within the fluidity of it but in which there are not yet any ice blocks which have already fallen out of the literal fluency, which are connected with the soul-spiritual of the human being.

Now when we come towards the east, one finds this process in a stage which is even further back. Now you don't see ice floes which are thrown out of the stream of speech, and which are not firmly connected with it; here also, as not in High German, the entire adequacy of thoughts are experienced with the word but the word is experienced in such a way that a person retains it in his organism, while thoughts in their turn flow into the words, which one runs after but which actually goes before you.

These are the things which one has to live through when one wants to really understand literal fluency. One can't experience this if one doesn't at least to a certain degree take on the contemplation which Goethe developed for the observation of the living plant world and which, when in one's inner life, these are followed with inner consequential exercises, leading towards mental pictures about what is meant in Anthroposophy. Anyway, if you want to look at the language, you must observe it in such a way that you live within the inner metamorphosis of the organising of the language, experience in its inner concreteness, because only then will you have in front of you, what the speech process is. As long as you are unable to rise up to such inner observations of speech, you are only looking at speech in an outer way, and you will be unable to penetrate the actual living object of language. As a result, all kinds of theories of speech have appeared. Ideas about language have in many cases become thought-related regarding the origins of language; a number of theories have resulted from this. Wilhelm Wundt enumerated them in his theory of language and picked them apart critically.

This is the way things are today in many areas and how it was observed yesterday. When the bearers of some scientific angle today raises into full contemplation regarding what he has observed within the science and he represents it thus, then talk starts to develop about “decline”. This is actually not really what Anthroposophy wants to tell you. Basically, for example, yesterday very little was said about decline; but very much not so in the case of those who stand within theology, for they are experiencing a decline.

Similarly, there is also talk regarding the philosophy of language, of declining theories, for instance with the “theory of creative synthesis/invention” (Erfindungstheorie). Wundt lists his different theories. Following on the theory of invention the language developed in such a way that humanity, to some extent, fixed the designations of things; however, this is no longer appropriate for current humanity because today the question they ask is how could the dumb have fixed forms of language while still so primitive?

As his second, Wundt presents his “theory of wonder” (Wundertheorie) which assumes that at a certain stage of evolution human speech/language arrived as a gift from the Creator. Dr Geyer already dealt with this yesterday; currently it is no longer valid for a decent scientist to believe in wonder; it is prohibited, and so the theory of wonder is no longer acceptable. Further down his list is the “theory of imitation” (Nachahmungstheorie) which already contains elements which have a partial authorisation because it is based on elements of consonants in speech being far more on an inner process than what is usually imagined. Then the “natural sound theory” (Naturlauttheorie) followed which claimed that out of inner experience the human being aspired towards phonetically relating what he perceived out in nature, into the form of speech, according to his sympathies or antipathies. These theories could be defined differently. Today it is quite possible to show that on the basis of those who criticise these theories, it becomes apparent that these theories can't determine the actual object of language.

Dear friends, the thing is actually like this: Anthroposophy—even when people say they don't need to wait for her—can still show in a certain relationship, what can be useful in this case, through which—even in such areas as linguistics—firstly the sober, pure object is to be found, on which the observation can be based.

Obviously anything possible can be discussed, also regarding language, even when one actually doesn't approach it as a really pure object. Anthroposophy bears within it a profound scientific character which assumes that first of all one must be clear what kind of reality there is to be found in specific areas, in order for the relationships we have regarding truth and wisdom to penetrate these areas, so that these areas of reality can actually become inward experiences. As we saw happening here yesterday, then in relation to such earnest work which is not more easily phrased in other sciences, it is said that these Anthroposophists stick their noses into everything possible, then it must be answered: Certainly it is apparent that Anthroposophy in the course of its evolution must stick its nose into everything. When this remark doesn't remain in superficiality, this ‘Anthroposophy sticks her nose into everything possible’—but if one wants to make progress to really behold and earnestly study the results, when it comes down to Anthroposophy sticking its nose into everything, only then, when this second stage in the relationships to Anthroposophy is accomplished, will it show how fruitful Anthroposophy is and in how far its legitimacy goes against the condemnation that it merely originates from superficial observation!