Academic journal article Trames

'Where Does Speech Come From?' a Historical Linguistic Answer

Academic journal article Trames

'Where Does Speech Come From?' a Historical Linguistic Answer

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: status quo, method and theory of research, and the question "Where does speech come from?"

1.1. Status quo of research about the origin of speech

Speaking from a generalizing perspective, the question 'Where does speech come from?' is probably one of the oldest questions asked by humans, since there was an awareness of speech. Actually, we find answers to this question in scholarly writings, in the arts, and in spiritual dogmatic writings. Speech in cultures without writing can hardly be preserved and so, besides the oral tradition, documentations about speech as an object and tool prior to the time of written recordings do not exist. Through oral tradition we have a documentation of speech from prior times. An example for such documentations is A Thousand and One Nights. Also many religions construct a relation between speech and their god(s). So e.g. the New Testament (John 1:1) is written:


(Greek New Testament. Tischendorf (8th ed. with diacritics))

We will translate this here as follows:

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with the god, and god was the word.

The most surprising aspect here is that the sentence, directed against speakers, uses pseudo-logical syllogism for the identification of god and the word. But we must be aware of the change of meanings of speech, even within one language: The Greek word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] originally meant 'word', but was also used for a concrete speech in the cultural context of the art of rhetoric. This is just one example for the identification of speech with a god. We have also a goddesses of speech Vac and Saraswati in Hinduism and in Old Egypt the god Thot, religious doctrines that instruct their followers how to speak in Christianity, in Islam, in Confucianism, and specific religious forms of speech (prayer, chanting). Speech is of course a structural element of literature and linguistic products and besides the scholarly writings many persons with the ability to write wrote about speech.

Plato, Aristotle, and the rhetoricians established the meaning 'speech' of the word logos (Liddell, Scott). With Plato we reach a perspective on speech (logos), which implements speech into a discursive philosophy. The dialogue Theaetet used the word logos in the phrase [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which Fowler translates as 'true opinion accompanied by reason':


(Plato. Platonis Opera)

Fowler translates this as follows:



Oh yes, I remember now, Socrates, having heard someone make the distinction, but I had forgotten it. He said that knowledge was true opinion accompanied by reason, [201d] but that unreasoning true opinion was outside of the sphere of knowledge; and matters of which there is not a rational explanation are unknowable--yes, that is what he called them--and those of which there is are knowable.

(Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes)

The Merriam Webster Dictionary (2010) provides us with the following definitions of speech that are placed across all areas of communication, human speaking, utterance, rhetoric, language, and speech style:

1a: the communication or expression of thoughts in spoken words 1b: exchange of spoken words: conversation 2a: something that is spoken: utterance 2b: a usually public discourse: address 3a: language, dialect 3b: an individual manner or style of speaking 4: the power of expressing or communicating thoughts by speaking

(Merriam Webster Dictionary)

The Merriam Webster Dictionary traces the origin of speech back to Middle English 'speche', from Old English 'spraec' and 'spaec'; akin to Old English 'sprecan' to 'speak'. The first known use of the English word 'speech' was before the 12th century (Merriam-Webster). Taking the definitions of speech in the contemporary dictionary Merriam Webster Dictionary (2010) as status quo of average knowledge about speech in the community of Western English speakers, a desideratum inquiring the concept of speech is an alternative to the ambivalent definitions that indicate the simplified use of this term among contemporary speakers. …

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