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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Genius of Language
GA 299

These discussions are part of the first Waldorf Teacher Training. They took place along with two other courses that Rudolf Steiner gave to prepare the individuals he had chosen as teachers for the first Waldorf school, which opened in Stuttgart on September 7, 1919.

Emil Molt, the managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, had requested that Rudolf Steiner help found a school for the children of the factory employees. From that request has grown what is now a worldwide educational movement. But the questions can be asked: Is an educational impulse more than seventy-five years old relevant today? How do teachers keep themselves up-to-date? Can the Waldorf curriculum be effective for children in the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries?

I. Language from an Historical Standpoint December 26, 1919
Relation of a people’s language to its soul life. Coining new words for the present age still possible in German, less so in the West. The “genius of language.” Historical entrance of Greek and then more strongly the ideas and vocabulary of Christianity into Germanic areas. Language-forming power and how it dwindled. Influence of French, Italian, Spanish, and finally English on the German language. The inmost kernel of language: penetration of sense into sound.
II. The Evolution of Language from an Organic Point of View December 28, 1919
Importance of ideas, images, and vocabulary brought to Central Europe from the South with Christianity. The waning of language-forming power, though still alive in the dialects. Consonants imitate outer happenings; the inward nature of vowels. False theories of language. Speech sounds and soul qualities; Ulfilas’s language. Metamorphoses of sound and meaning.
III. The Transforming Powers of Language in Relation to Spiritual Life December 29, 1919
The foreign components of German and its connection to other European languages. Indo-European the original language. The wave movement of human development; alienation of social relationships and isolation. Differentiations of language according to geographical conditions. Consonant shifts (1500 B.C.-500 A.D.); three language steps: Greco-Latin to Anglo-Saxon to German. The folk soul element: expletives. Inner wordless thinking.
IV. History of Language in Its Relation to the Folk Souls December 31, 1919
Elements from the past in our own words. Earlier musical qualities of language now abstract, with no connection to our feeling life. The emotional, perceptive characteristic of language should be fostered. Shifts of meaning.
V. Language and the Sense for Reality or Its Lack January 2, 1920
Use of language in the Middle Ages: nuances of feeling. Shifts of word meanings. The gradual separation of sound-perception and meaning (concept). Hazy sense of reality expresses itself in abstract language.
VI. The Inner Path of the Genius of Language January 2, 1920
Elements of our feeling life and our will expressed by vowel qualities of words. Three steps of language development: consonants, vowel formation, reappearance of consonant emphasis. Concrete advice for teachers.