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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

IX. Dialect and Standard Language

4 May 1920, Basel

The question I was posed after yesterday’s lecture is directly connected with what I explained in the previous days. It can also be considered today in connection with what we have been talking about. Yesterday I attempted to sketch out a description of how the content of the teaching material may actually not be the most important thing. I said we cannot make directly out of the material we obtain through science or from something else a popularized form adjusted for children, as often is done with biology or zoology, so that a simplified content is taught the children. I drew your attention to how the task of teaching can only become a task of education when we are in a position of being able to transform the material we have to present, regardless of what form it has, into an educational experience. Yesterday, I gave some indication of how to do that for biology and zoology. In education, we need to work more and more toward presenting everything, particularly with children from the ages of six or seven until puberty, in such a way that the forces that are trying to develop in a child can actually be brought to development.

If we are going to be able to do that, we must also be capable of properly using everything the child brings into school. I also mentioned that a large number of children bring into school something that we can well use in teaching, namely, their dialect. The children speak in dialect, and they speak in such a way that the dialects have developed in them under the influence of the instinct for imitation. If we have a talent for observing such things, we can recognize that those children who speak in dialect have a much more intimate relationship to language than those children who do not speak in dialect. The question I was asked yesterday was connected with how we can use the capacity of the children to speak in dialect in school, in teaching them to speak the so-called standard language.

We certainly cannot overlook the fact that the intimate relationship that children who speak in dialect have to their languages exists because the dialect as such, in its words and sentences, has been formed out of a much more intense feeling and willing than standard language, which is based more upon thinking or upon a thinking derived primarily from feeling. In any event, emotion is much less present in standard language when a child learns standard language originally than it is in dialect. The same is also true in regard to the will impulse.

Now this points us at the very beginning to something extremely important for teaching and education, namely, that human beings, more than we normally assume, develop themselves from two sources that are really related to one another like the North and South Poles. If we work in one direction or the other in education or in forming our teaching, if we work to primarily base everything upon visualization so that the child reasons visually and thus slowly develops through a comprehension of the pictures presented, we are going to one extreme. If, on the other hand, we educate the child through using the child’s capacity of memory or count upon the child’s acceptance due to obedience to our authority, we are going to the other extreme.

It is particularly clear in language that these two extremes always belong together in human nature. Language itself has a clearly perceptible musical element, an element which is closely connected with that innermost aspect of the human being. Language also has at the same time a sculptural or drawing element. As very small children, we attempt to imitate, though unconsciously, in our language what we perceive through the senses. It is especially clear in language how the musical and sculptural elements work in two diverging directions. If we educate children more according to the musical element, which in school is expressed primarily through a feeling for authority, we will destroy what exists in the child as a sculptural desire. The musical element of language develops under the influence of authority such that the child continuously has an instinct or a desire to speak, even in the details of the tones, in the same way that a person who is felt to be an authority speaks. A conformity to the authority’s musical element is, whether we want to believe that it is right or wrong, simply there because of the nature of the child. If you have a talent for observing such things, you will quickly notice how the musical element of the child’s language conforms to that of the person educating the child.

A one-sided development of the musical element in language destroys language’s sculptural element. When people only follow the musical element, they are forced more and more to make language an inner experience, to follow their feelings in a certain way by recreating the tone, the intonation, and particularly the nuances of the vowels to conform to those of the people whom they perceive as authorities. This is most certainly true when a child enters elementary school. It is less true for a child in that age between birth and elementary school, when he or she first learns language. During that time, the child is an imitator and develops language out of the entirety of human nature and with a continuous adjustment of the remainder of the human organism to the environment. At that point much enters into speaking which guides language into a more sculptural form. However, because human beings are imitators and imitate right into the innermost activities of their nature, the sculptural element also forms during this time in an inner way. Here we can see one major difference in language development. From birth until the change of teeth, children develop their language sculpturally. If a child has the good fortune to be able to adjust to a dialect during that period of life, one that is more inwardly connected to the human being than standard language, then the child is, in regard to willing and authority aspects of language development, more intimately connected to language than it is with standard language.

Upon entering elementary school, the musical element then replaces the sculptural element, as I mentioned before, and the inner feelings have an effect. However, since the musical element as such counteracts the sculptural element, it is necessary for us to appropriately use in teaching elementary school what the children bring with them, what they have developed in language through their own forces until the age of six or seven.

In language, broadly speaking, the unconscious has had a great effect on the child. We should also learn from the fact that primitive peoples have often developed a much richer grammar than those present in the languages of more civilized peoples. This is seldom taken into account outside of spiritual science, but it is something we should consider as a result of a genuine observation of human beings, namely, that the human being develops a logic from within so that language is actually logically formed. Thus we do not need to teach grammar in a way other than by bringing what already exists as a completely developed language structure into consciousness. When teaching and learning grammar, we need only to follow the general tendency of awakening the child and of bringing that into consciousness. We need only to develop those forces that can be developed until the age of nine, in the sense that I described before. We need to use the instruction in language in order to continue to awaken the child. We can best do that if we use every opportunity that occurs to work from dialect. If we have a child who before the age of seven has already learned a more educated informal language, the socalled standard language, it will be extremely difficult to reach the aspect of the child’s unconscious that has a natural relationship to the logical formation of language, since that has already withered. Thus if we have children who speak dialect and others who do not in the same class, we should always connect our instruction in grammar with what those children who do speak in dialect already provide us.

We first want to try to find the structure of a sentence and then a word from the perspective of dialect. We can do that if we proceed by having a child say a sentence, for example, one that is as simple as possible. The main thing the sentence will always contain is something that is an inner enlivening of an activity. The more often we begin with an inner enlivening of an activity, the more we will be able to achieve an awakening of consciousness in the child while teaching language.

There is a very extensive and clever literature about so-called subjectless sentences, for instance, “It is raining,” “It is lightning,” “It is thundering,” and so forth. The most important point about this is hardly mentioned in all of that research, however. What is most important is that these sentences correspond to the child’s actual understanding. The sentences correspond to that feeling in children that exists in people who are not educated, and where the soul feels itself to be at one with the external world. A differentiation between the I and the external world has not yet been developed. If I say, for example, “It is raining,” this is based upon an unconscious feeling that what is occurring as an activity outside of myself continues in that space within my skin, and that my I does not confront the external world. When saying something like “It is raining” or “It is lightning,” we do not feel ourselves separate from the world. In a certain sense, these subjectless sentences are the original sentences of human nature. They are simply the first step of language development which arrests an activity. Originally, we perceived all of the world as an activity, something we do not consider enough. In a certain sense, in our youngest childhood, we see everything substantial as a substantiated verb and accept it simply as it is. Later, what we become aware of, what is active, is what is active and then occupies our own activity. Now you might say that contradicts the fact that children first say “Papa” or something similar. That is not at all a contradiction, since in speaking the series of sounds, the child brings into life that activity which the corresponding person presents to the child.

Learning to speak is at first the enlivening of an activity whose substantiation occurs only afterwards. This is something that, when we look at dialect, we can certainly take into account. You can attempt to feel that by having a child say something and then trying to feel that within yourself. The words in dialect are such that they are extremely close to what lives in the gesture that accompanies the word in dialect. To a much greater extent dialect words require the person to participate, to live into the word. By feeling the word in dialect you can determine what is an abstraction, and what the subject and the predicate are. The predicate is derived from the activity, whereas the subject is actually more of an intellectual abstraction of the activity. When we have children speak sentences in dialect and we then consider the pictures they provide us with, and we can see those as representing what human beings actually feel when we go on to develop the rules of grammar, we are using instruction in grammar and sentence structure to help the child to awaken.

We can now allow these two things to interact in a wonderful way. We can translate what has been presented in dialect into standard language and then show, through a direct feeling and with a lively interaction with the children, how a certain “aroma” of language is given to the so-called educated informal language, to standard language. From there we can go on to the inner characteristics of standard language. This creates a certain development of thinking. In standard language we need to give much more attention to the development of the thoughts that are its basis than we do with dialect.

Dialect shows us directly that human beings did not develop speech from thinking. Instead they learned to think from language, so it was language that first developed out of the human unconscious. As human beings thought about language, thoughts first arose from language. If we can properly feel this, then we can connect a living feeling with what I would call the genius of language. In many regards language is much more clever than individual human beings. In earliest childhood we can in fact find our way through the complicated organism of language. Only later do we discover those remarkable connections that only a sharp logic can reveal and which exist in language out of our unconscious nature. The spirit has an effect upon language. However, we will not understand that spiritual aspect if we only consider how the spirit, in an abstract form, has an effect upon human beings, in the way that people in our materialistic age like to do.

Perhaps I can again touch something which is often said to be the basis of psychoanalysis but which needs to be understood in a quite different sense than psychoanalysts often do. Let us take something that often occurs in life. A lady is invited to a home where guests have been invited, but the lady of the house is absent that evening because of illness. This lady now attends the party. On the same evening, the lady of the house needs to leave. The party breaks up because the man of the house needs to take his wife to the train. The group of people now go along the street, and a coach comes around the corner. At first the carriage is going very quickly and the group of people move to the left and right of the street to make way. However, the one lady who had been invited that evening runs in front of the horses. She runs and runs, and in spite of all the coachman’s shouting, he is unable to get her to move to one side. She keeps on running in front of the coach, and as they come to a bridge, she recognizes the situation and jumps into the water. She needs to be rescued. The group of people who were at the party don’t know what to do with her except bring her back to the house where they had been invited that evening.

The psychoanalyst would say that this lady was mentally isolated, that she had been startled as a child by a horse that had chased her or something similar, and that this experience was carried in the depths of her mind. Now, on this evening, this experience surfaces again. This is a very clever theory. But those who have learned to observe reality and who have learned to place themselves into reality through spiritual science will not see this as valid.

The truth is quite different. The lady is infatuated with the man of the house, and is quite happy to have been invited to the party on just that day when the lady of the house has to leave. Of course, this lady would not admit this, since she is a very correct person. She could be, in fact, a very correct lady in her consciousness, but what she does not admit has an effect in her subconscious. For that reason, she arranges everything so that all of the guests invited that evening will bring her back to the house when the lady of the house has left. That is what she wanted from the very beginning, but was not at all conscious of it.

Here you can see how thinking, cleverness, and intelligence work without having an effect through the human consciousness. Those who can observe life know that there are people who can arrange things from a distance to achieve what they want without having any conscious idea that they are doing so. Nevertheless everything is all very systematically arranged toward a particular goal. We need to be aware that reason is not only something that we develop, it is also something that acts within us in our nature, something which is active within us long before we become aware of it.

What we want to teach children about language has an effect upon them long before they become aware of it. We should therefore avoid trying to teach them the rules for speaking or writing, but instead enable them to awaken and become aware of what subconsciously acts within. Whether we have one intention or another in our instruction is tremendously important. We should always pay attention to the intention behind teaching.

Speaking a dialect has an intimate connection with the subconscious, so we can develop real grammar and rules for sentence structure from the dialect language by basing our work upon the reason that lives within human nature. If, however, we need to work with children who already speak the standard language, we should whenever possible not work in such a way to develop a kind of grammar through the intellect, and not direct our work by teaching about the dative and accusative and how we write, how periods and commas are placed at particular locations and so forth. We instead need to work in a different way. When we need to teach children who do not speak in dialect, then we must create our instruction and grammar in an artistic way and appeal to a feeling for style.

Children bring an instinct for language with them into elementary school, and we need to develop this feeling wherever possible until the child reaches the age of nine. We can only do this by developing a feeling for style in an artistic way. That is something we can achieve — although in this age where authority is being undermined everywhere this may be laughed at — by using the natural desires of children to follow authority, and thus to form those sentences that we present to the children in the most artistic way. We need to artistically form the sentences so that we draw from the child a feeling for their artistic form. That is something we can do when we make the children aware of the difference between an assertion or a question, or perhaps a statement of feeling, and have the child speak it in such a way that a statement with feeling is spoken with the intonation of an assertion. We can then make the children aware of how an assertion is spoken in a neutral, objective way; whereas a statement of feeling is spoken with certain nuances of feeling. We can work with this artistic element of language, then out of that element develop grammar and syntax.

If we use dialect in order to develop the natural human instinct for language while using standard language in order to awaken an inner feeling for style, we can achieve what is necessary in teaching language. I will speak about this in more detail later, however; for now I simply want to indicate the principles.

This principle shows that we must keep the developing child in mind at all times. We need to ask what is developing at this particular age. If we do not have the feeling that with the change of teeth children are, in a certain sense, born a second time, then we will not have the proper enthusiasm for our teaching. Of course, the physical birth is much more obvious than what occurs at around the age of seven. At birth the physical body of a human being is separated from that body of the mother. With the change of teeth, the human etheric body becomes separate from the physical body, with which the etheric body was intimately connected. The etheric body worked within the physical body to develop the second set of teeth, but now it becomes free. What children bring to school in terms of capacities are actually the free and newborn capacities of the etheric body. This is the first spiritual aspect that a child presents.

When we have a child younger than seven before us, we have it before us only as a physical body. All the child’s spiritual and soul aspects are active within that physical body, and we can reach the child only through the fact that the child itself has a desire to imitate. At the age of seven, the etheric body, that is, all those aspects of human nature which have an etheric component in their substance, now become free and have a life for themselves. I have already mentioned that the human being is more than 75 percent composed of water. Why do people in physiology and anatomy always speak as though the human being consisted of a solid body? What occurs within a human being works in just the same way in fluids. It also occurs in the gaseous state. What develops in a child in regard to spiritual and soul capacities after the change of teeth occurs neither in a solid nor in liquid nor in gaseous state. It occurs instead in what we carry within our body as the etheric, what we carry within us in the form of heat, light, chemical, and life ethers.

It is nonsense to say that thoughts are only processes within the nervous system, imagining the nerves as semi-solid or at least soft forms. No, thoughts occur through direct development, by not being transformed into memories. Thoughts occur in such a way that they do not even have contact with the physical body after the age of seven.

When people think, they think only in their etheric element, which fills their physical bodies. You might, however, object by saying that thoughts become memories and thus remain within the human being. The etheric element is very volatile; all thoughts would dissolve if they were to live only in it. Memory is a much more complicated process than people normally think. Often they have the idea — which is based upon materialism — that when people think, the thoughts they have seek out a place to live somewhere in the human soul, and that we bring them forth again when we recall them. But that is not how it is. If you can observe the process of thinking, you will find that when you see something through your senses in the outer world, you connect thoughts with it. But when you recall something and form a thought, then what you have is something that otherwise comes from the external world but now arises within your own inner world. Just as you comprehend thoughts connected with the external world, you also comprehend thoughts which arise within you. Memory does not occur because thoughts sink down into the soul, but because what physically acts upon the eye and the ear is continued within the physical body. Thinking is a parallel process. This process leaves behind a rhythmical element which can be brought forth inwardly at a later time, so it can be perceived in the same way that external perceptions are.

Probably all of you have observed how young children help themselves so that they can better bring up their memories. They do everything possible in order to strengthen thinking through the senses if they are to remember something. Recall how many children study, how they seek to include within their physical body what they are to learn as a thought, how a physical inclusion occurs in parallel with thinking. When children simply think, they often do not remember. They only remember when they again hear what they have memorized, or are in some other way physically reminded of what they have memorized.

In order for us to remember, there must be some process that works in parallel to thinking. For thinking, it is totally unimportant whether it is developed through the external world or through a memory that arises within. Thinking is something that is fleeting. Thoughts are not retained. It is something else which is retained that then each time gives rise to a new thought. There is no difference between whether I remember something and then create a thought and when I see something in the external world that gives rise to a thought. In the one case, there is a process connected with the external world and in the other case there is a process connected with an inner experience. In any event, when I recall something, my organs go into a rhythmic movement and repeat what they carried out under the impression of the experience. When I have the experience for the first time, that is, while I observe it in the external world, my thoughts develop only in connection with the external world. When I remember something, my thoughts are ignited from within by my organs, which begin to vibrate in the same way as when I first had the experience.

Such things cannot be directly proven in the same way that external processes can be proven. These things must be slowly comprehended so that they become a certainty through a genuine observation of life. When we look at this particular kind of thinking that actually occurs within the volatile element of the etheric and when we determine how the physical organs must be capable of vibrating in the same sense as the etheric vibrates, we will properly comprehend the enormous transformation that human life undergoes through the change of teeth. Up to this point the entire etheric body is active. The heat, chemical, light, and life ethers are active in the organs, forming them in such a way that they can vibrate in material along with the etheric. The etheric body is the architect and sculptor of the physical body. Once the physical body is developed to this degree, under the influence of the etheric body — which actually thinks — the intellect is emancipated from the physical body so that the physical body can vibrate like a violin string when another string is struck. Thus when the physical body has developed to the point that the change of teeth has begun, we can then count upon developing the etheric body as such. We form the physical body at the same time as we form the etheric body. But we need to have a feeling for this birth of the etheric body at the time of the change of teeth.

Going on, we again need to sense that something still higher in human nature is born at puberty, something that previously had been working on a further formation of the human organism. Whether we call what is born at the age of fourteen or fifteen in a human being the astral body and whether we are pleased with that description or not is unimportant. What is important is to realize that just as the intellectual element is born through the etheric body around the age of seven, the entire non-physical soul aspect is born around the age of fourteen or fifteen. Prior to that, feeling and willing are closely connected with the physical organism. Just as thinking is connected with the physical organism until the age of seven, feeling and willing are closely connected with the physical organism, that is, until puberty.

We must therefore be aware that before the age of puberty, which is also when the students graduate from elementary school, we do not under any circumstances bring into thinking — which is slowly developing with the etheric body — anything that could lead to an independence of the will or feeling too early. When the child is educated with love under the guidance of authority— when the child learns feeling and willing under the guidance of others, under the guidance of adult instructors — then at the proper moment, namely at puberty, the child’s own independent feeling and willing will be born. We can only properly develop our feeling and willing in that we allow them to develop under the authority of other people. If we achieve an independent development of will too early, if we achieve what I might call certain secret functions of the will too early, that will damage us for the remainder of our lives. We achieve a subtle functioning of the will too early if we are tempted to subject our moral and religious impulses to our own judgment at too early a time.

Until puberty, children should learn morality and religion through the influence of moral and religious authorities. Only at puberty does the spiritual and soul nature of the human being begin to become free of the body so that we can allow it to make its own judgments. When you say such things today, you have the prejudices of our times against you. As I mentioned this question of a natural feeling for authority in a more or less public lecture in Germany at a time when everything seemed to be under the influence of a revolution (though it did not turn out to be), everyone objected to this because they all wanted to keep the authorities away from children. What they really wanted was that teachers cease to exist and that the children would teach and raise themselves in a democratic way.

I had to answer that this is something that children do not want at all. Children want to be guided, they want to love and learn from authority. What develops within children as a love of authority is connected with their own nature.

When human beings reach sexual maturity, there, of course, develops a love for the other sex. This then becomes individualized into the love of a man for a woman. However, what is thus individualized is at the same time an individual expression for a general love for humanity, for a love for humanity in general. The general love of humanity as well as a love for particular persons develops in the same way as love for the other sex does at sexual maturity. This love that one person has for others develops as an independent force only with sexual maturity, since love must be freed of authority. This kind of love is genuine devotion. Until sexual maturity, love is a need. It is something that the child’s own being demands egotistically. We must recognize that children in elementary school egotistically demand to be able to love. They need to have that person of authority near them on whom they hang, to whom they are devoted because they find pleasure in devotion, into which they are forced by their own nature. That is the primary element in love, whether it be love of humanity or love of nature, love of the stars, or love of supersensible beings and God. It is what lives in the human beings as love, and it is essentially the content of the astral body.

Only when you have thoroughly accepted these things will you be able to develop a proper understanding of how language, at least to the extent that the child brings language to school in the form of a dialect, has developed under the influence of the physical body itself. In contrast, from the age of seven onward, we no longer have a possibility of bringing style into the imaginative element of language if we do not develop a feeling for style itself through our own individual personal relationship, our love for the child. Out of this loving relationship, a feeling for style in more educated, standard language, can grow.

A child that learned a dialect just as it learned to walk already has a feeling for the dialect. It is something we can develop out of the child itself. But it is also useful to make children aware of dialect even if they have not had the good fortune of learning it. Compared to standard language, a dialect is more artistic. Standard language is more related to reason and adheres more to convention. In doing this, we are using something we need to use in education— the artistic element. In a certain sense, we use something existing in the child’s blood that forms the dialect.

I still need to speak about the actual teaching of grammar, about what is, in my opinion, the proper method of teaching arithmetic and so forth. In teaching arithmetic it is important to be able to look closely at what occurs in a young person between the ages of seven and fourteen or fifteen. If we develop a person contrary to what occurs naturally, we will damage that person for his or her entire life.

It is very easy to teach a person in a way that is against human nature because human nature is split. We thus need to be aware that we damage people when we do something that is correct but take it to an extreme: one side always needs to be rounded off by the other. In language, we need to round off the sculptural element with the musical element. We will see what the situation is with arithmetic. What damages people so much is often the result of their instruction in arithmetic. The way that we learn to do arithmetic generally goes against human nature. Everything that occurs in many people today as a tendency toward materialism is essentially the result of improper instruction in arithmetic around the age of nine. Another thing that is so destructive for the later development of the soul in many people is that they begin to reason too early, and we present the material there to learn in a way for which they are not yet mature enough. They take in a large number of predetermined judgments that then continue to affect them. People often speak about the fact that in human beings one concept or idea associates itself with others. There is nothing more unfortunate than this talk about the association of ideas. When ideas associate with one another in us, when they clump and we run after them, then in our thinking, we are under their control and no longer have power over ourselves. Through education, we must protect people from allowing these associations to gain the upper hand over the will. I will speak more of that tomorrow.