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Spiritual Science and Speech

By Rudolf Steiner

GA 59

A lecture given in the Architekenhaus, Berlin, 20th January, 1910. Authorized translation from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of Frau Marie Steiner.

This edition is the first appearance of this lecture in English. Also known as Spiritual Science and Language. It appears as lecture 2 of 9 in the lecture series: Metamorphoses of the Soul, Paths of Experience – 2. The original German is included in: Metamorphosen des Seelenlebens. Pfade der Seelen Erlebnisse. Zweiter Teil (#59 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961.)

Copyright © 1926
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 No. 2 [New Series]. MIDSUMMER 1926. Vol. 1 


A lecture given in the Architekenhaus, Berlin, 20th January, 1910.
Authorized translation from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer.
Published by kind permission of Frau Marie Steiner.

By Rudolf Steiner

IT is fascinating to study from the point of view of Spiritual Science the different ways in which the being of man expresses itself, — that is to say Spiritual Science in our sense of the term. We can obtain a general survey of human life in its different phases and aspects by studying them as we have done in the course of these lectures.

To-day we shall consider the expression of the spirit of man in speech, and in the next lecture, under the title of ‘Laughter and Weeping,’ [This lecture will be published in a future number. — ED. ANTHROPOSOPHY] an aspect of man’s power of expression which is indeed bound up with speech and yet fundamentally different from it.

The whole being of man, his whole significance and dignity, is bound up with speech. Our innermost life, all our feelings and will-impulses flow out from us, linking us to our fellow-men through speech which enables us to expand and radiate into our environment. On the other hand, those who dare to penetrate into the inner life of some great individuality may feel that human speech is a kind of tyrant that exercises its power over the inner life. We are indeed aware, if we are only willing to admit it, that word and speech can only inadequately express the feelings, the thoughts, and all the intimate and individual colouring of everything that passes through the soul. We also realise that our own native language compels us to a definite kind of thinking. Do we not all realise how dependent our thinking is upon our speech? In more senses than one our concepts attach themselves to words, and an imperfectly developed man may easily mistake the word, or what the word infuses into him, for the concept. This is why so many people are incapable of building up a conceptual world of their own transcending what is imparted by the words current around them. We must surely realise that the character of a whole people speaking a common language is in a certain sense dependent on that language. Anyone who studies the more intimate connections between the characteristics of race and speech knows to what an extent the way a man is able to express the content of his soul in sound reacts upon the strength and weakness of his character, upon his temperament, indeed upon his whole outlook on life. Those who have knowledge will be able to learn a great deal about the character of a people from the configuration of their particular speech or language. Since, however, a language is common to a whole people, the individual is dependent on the community and on its average level. The individual is subject, as it were, to the tyranny and power of the community. But when we realise how our individual spiritual life on the one hand, and the common spiritual life on the other, are expressed in speech, the so-called ‘Mystery of Speech’ assumes great significance.

It is certainly possible to understand something of the life of the soul by observing how a man expresses himself in words. The mystery of speech and its origin and development through the different epochs has always been a problem in certain domains of Science, but it cannot be said that specialists in our age have been very successful in fathoming this mystery. To-day, therefore, we shall try in a somewhat aphoristic manner, to throw light on the development of speech and its connection with the human being, from the point of view of Spiritual Science.

What at first seems so mysterious when we designate an object or a process by a word, is how the particular sound-combination in the word or sentence is related to what comes forth from us, and how it expresses the phenomenon as a word. External Science has made many attempts to bring the most varied experiences together in different combinations, but this mode of observation has been felt to be unsatisfactory. There is one question which is really so simple, and yet so difficult to answer: how was it that man, confronted with something in the external world, produced, as from out of himself, an echo of the particular object or process in a definite sound?

Some people thought this question quite simple. They imagined, for instance, that speech-formation took its start from the fact that man heard some external sound, either produced by animals, or caused by the impact of one object against another, and that he then imitated the sound through the inner faculty of speech, like a child, who, hearing the ‘bow-wow’ of a dog, imitates this sound and calls the dog ‘bow-wow.’ Word-formation of this kind may be called ‘onomatopoeia,’ an imitation of the sound. This kind of imitation was the basis of the original sound and word formation, — at least so it was stated by those who regarded the matter from this particular point of view. The question is of course still unanswered as to how man comes to give names to dumb entities from which no sound proceeds. How does he ascend from the sound uttered by an animal or caused by an occurrence which can be heard, to one which cannot? Max Müller, the famous Philologist, ridiculed this, calling it the ‘bow-wow’ theory, because he realised what an unsatisfactory piece of speculation it was. He advanced another theory in its place which his opponents in turn called ‘mystical,’ though they used the word in an unjustifiable sense. Max Müller really means that every single thing contains something of the nature of sound within itself; everything has sound in a certain sense, not only a glass we let fall, or a bell we strike, but every single thing. Man’s capacity to set up a relationship between his soul and the inner sound-essence of the object calls forth in the soul the power to express this inner sound-essence; the inner essence of the bell is expressed in some way when we ‘feel again’ its tone in the ‘ding-dong.’ Max Müller's opponents ridiculed him in return by calling his the ‘ding-dong’ theory. However many more combinations of this kind we might care to enumerate, — and they have been evolved with great diligence, — we should find that the attempts to characterise in this external way what man causes to resound like an echo from his soul to meet the essence of things, must always be unsatisfactory. We must, in effect, penetrate more deeply into the whole inner being of man.

According to Spiritual Science man is a highly complex being. As he stands before us he has in the first place his physical body, which contains substances which are also found in the mineral world. As a second, higher member he has the etheric, or life body. Then he has the member which is the vehicle of joy and suffering, pleasure and pain, instinct, desire and passion, — the astral body. This astral body is, to Spiritual Science, as real a part of man's constitution as anything the eyes can see and the hands touch. The fourth member of the human being has been spoken of as the bearer of the Ego, and man's evolution, at its present stage, consists in working, from his Ego outwards, as it were, at the transformation of the other three members of his being. It has also been indicated that in a far-off future the human Ego will have transformed these three members to such an extent that nothing will remain of what Nature, or the spiritual powers existing in Nature, have made of them.

The astral body, the vehicle of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, of all ebbing and flowing ideas, feelings and perceptions, came into existence in the first place without our co-operation, — that is to say, without the activity of our Ego. The Ego works upon the astral body, purifying and refining it, gaining mastery over its qualities and activities. If the Ego has worked but little on the astral body, man is the slave of his instincts and desires. If, however, the Ego has refined the instincts and desires into virtues, has co-ordinated phantasmal thinking by the guiding threads of logic, a portion of the astral body is transformed. Whereas formerly it was not worked upon by the Ego, it has become a product of the Ego. When the Ego carries out this work consciously, — as it is beginning to do in human evolution to-day, — we call the part of the astral body which has been consciously transformed from out of the Ego, ‘Spirit Self,’ or ‘Manas,’ to use a term of Oriental Philosophy. When the Ego works in a different and more intense way, not only upon the astral body, but also upon the etheric body, we call the part of the etheric body which has been thus transmuted the ‘Life Spirit’ or ‘Budhi’ in Eastern terminology. And finally, although this belongs to the far-off future, when the Ego has become so strong that it transmutes the physical body and regulates its laws, — in such a way that the Ego is everywhere controlling all that lives in the physical body, — we give the name of ‘Spirit Man’ to that part of the physical body thus under the rulership of the Ego; and since this work begins with a regulation of the breathing process, the oriental term is ‘Atman,’ from which the German ‘atmen’ (to breathe) is derived.

In the first place, then, we have man as a fourfold being, consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego. And just as we may speak of three of the members of our being as being products of the past, so may we speak of three other members which as a result of the work of the Ego will gradually unfold in the future. Thus we speak of a sevenfold nature of the human being, adding Spirit Self, Life Spirit and Spirit Man to physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego. But although we regard these three higher principles as belonging to a far-off future of human evolution, it must be said that in a certain sense man is preparing for them even to-day. Man will only begin consciously to transform the physical, etheric and astral bodies by means of the Ego in a distant future, but unconsciously, that is to say, without full consciousness, the dim activity of the Ego has already transformed these three members. A certain result has indeed already been achieved.

Those inner members of man's being mentioned in previous lectures could only have come into existence because the work of the Ego upon the astral body has resulted in the development of the sentient soul as a kind of inner reflection of the sentient body. The sentient body conveys what we call ‘enjoyment’ (Genuss) and this is reflected in the inner soul-being as the desires we ascribe to the soul. (Sentient body and astral body are the same thing so far as man is concerned; without the sentient body there could be no ‘enjoyment.’) Thus astral body, and transformed astral body, or sentient soul, belong together in the same sense as enjoyment and desires. The Ego has also worked on the etheric body in the past. What it has unfolded there has brought about the fact that in his inner being man bears the intellectual, or mind-soul. The intellectual soul, which is also the bearer of the memory, is connected with a subconscious process of transformation of the etheric body proceeding from the Ego. And finally, the Ego has in past ages already worked at the transformation of the physical body in order that man may exist in his present form. The product of this is called the consciousness soul, through which man acquires knowledge of the things of the outer world. In this sense too, therefore, we may speak of the sevenfold human being: the three soul members, sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul have arisen as the result of a preparatory, subconscious. Ego activity. But here the Ego has worked unconsciously or subconsciously, upon its sheaths.

Now we must ask: are not these three members, physical body, etheric body and astral body complicated entities? It is a most marvellous structure, this physical body of man! Closer examination would show that it contains far more than the mere portion which has been elaborated by the Ego into the consciousness soul, and which may be called the physical vehicle of the consciousness soul. Again, the etheric body is much more complicated than the vehicle of the intellectual or mind soul, and the astral body more complicated than the vehicle of the sentient soul. These elements are poor in comparison with what was already in existence before man possessed an Ego. Therefore Spiritual Science teaches us that in a primordial past the first germ of man's physical body was brought into existence by Spiritual Beings. To this was added the etheric body, then the astral body, and finally the Ego. The physical body of man has thus passed through four evolutionary stages. First of all the physical body existed in direct correspondence with the spiritual world, then it was elaborated, permeated and interwoven with the etheric body, and grew more complicated. Then it was permeated by the astral body and grew more complicated still. Then the Ego was added, and only when the Ego had worked on the physical body was a portion transformed into the vehicle of so-called ‘human consciousness,’ the faculty by which man acquires a knowledge of the external world. But this physical body has to do a great deal more than create a knowledge of the external world through the senses and brain. It has to carry out a number of activities lying at the basis of consciousness but taking their course entirely outside the region of the brain. And so it is with the etheric and astral bodies.

When we realise that all around us in the external world is Spirit, that Spirit is at the basis of everything material, etheric, astral, we must say: just as the Ego itself, as a spiritual being works from within outwards while man's evolution proceeds in the three members of his being, so must Spiritual Beings, or spiritual activities, if you will, have worked upon his physical, etheric and astral bodies before the Ego asserted itself and elaborated a further fragment of what had already been prepared. Here we look back to past ages when an activity proceeding from without inwards was exercised upon the astral, etheric and physical bodies, just as now the Ego works from within outwards upon these three members. Thus it must be said that spiritual creation, spiritual activity has been at work on our sheaths, imparting form, movement, shape and so on before the Ego was able to take root therein. We must speak of the existence of spiritual activities in human beings preceding the activity of the Ego. We bear within us spiritual activities which are necessary preliminaries to those of the Ego and which were in operation before the Ego could intervene. Let us then for the moment eliminate all that has been elaborated by the Ego from the three members of our being (sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul) and consider the structure, inner movement and activity of the sheaths of the human being. Before the activity of the Ego, a spiritual activity was exercised upon us. Therefore in Spiritual Science we say that in man as he is to-day we have to do with an individual soul, with a soul permeated by an Ego which makes each single human being into an individuality complete in itself. We say that before man became this complete Ego-being, he was the product of a ‘Group-Soul,’ of a soul essence, just as we speak of Group-Souls to-day in the animal world. The individual soul in the human being is, in the animal kingdom, at the basis of a whole family or species. A whole animal species has one common animal Group-Soul. In man, the Soul is individualised.

Thus before man became an individual soul, another soul worked in the three members of his being. This other soul — which we can only learn to know to-day through Spiritual Science — is the predecessor of our own Ego. This predecessor of the Ego, man's Group- or Species-Soul which gave over to the Ego the three members it had already elaborated, physical body, etheric body, astral body, in order that the Ego might further work upon them, — this Group-Soul similarly transformed, developed and regulated the three bodies from its inner centre. And the last activity which worked upon the human being before the bestowal of the Ego, the last influences immediately preceding the birth of the Ego, are to-day expressed in human speech. If, therefore, we take our start from our life of consciousness, intelligence and feeling, and look back to what has preceded this inner life, we are led to a soul activity as yet unpermeated by the Ego, the result of which is to-day expressed in speech.

Now let us consider this fourfold being of ours, and what lies at its foundation. How is it expressed outwardly in the physical body? The physical body of a plant has a different appearance from that of a man. Why is this so? It is because the plant possesses only physical body and etheric body, whereas in the physical body of man astral body and Ego are working as well. And what is inwardly working there correspondingly forms and transforms the physical. What is it, then, that has worked in man's physical body in such a way that it has become permeated by an etheric or life body?

The system of veins and glands is, in the human being and also in the animal, the outer physical expression of the etheric or life body; that is to say, the etheric body is the architect or moulder of the system of veins and glands. The astral body, again, moulds the nervous system. Therefore it is only correct to speak of a nervous system in the case of beings possessing an astral body.

And what is the expression of the Ego in man? It is the blood system, and, in the human being, the blood which is under the influence of the inner, vital warmth. Everything that the Ego brings about in man, if it is to be moulded into the physical body, proceeds by way of the blood. Therefore it is that blood is such ‘a very peculiar fluid.’ When the Ego has elaborated the sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul, all that it is able to shape and fashion can only penetrate to the physical body by way of the blood. The blood is the medium for all the activities of astral body and Ego.

Nobody will doubt, even if he only observes human life superficially, that as man works from his Ego in the consciousness soul, intellectual soul and sentient soul, he is also transforming and changing the physical body. The facial expression is surely an elaboration of what is working and living in the inner being. And is there anyone who would not admit that the inner activity of thought, if it lays hold of the whole soul, has a transforming effect on the brain, throughout the course of human life? Our brain adapts itself to our thinking; it is an instrument that moulds itself according to the requirements of our thinking. But, if we observe to what extent man is to-day able to mould his external being artistically from out of his Ego, we shall see that it is indeed very little. We can accomplish very little through the blood by setting it in movement from the “inner warmth.” The Spiritual Beings, whose activity preceded the activity of the Ego could do much more. They had a more effective medium at their disposal, and under their influence, man's form was so moulded that it has become, on the whole, an expression of what these Spiritual Beings made of him. What was the medium in which they worked? It was the air. Just as we work in the inner warmth, making our blood pulsate and thus bringing it to activity within our own form, — so did these Spiritual Beings work with regard to the air. Our true human form is the result of the work of these Beings upon us through the medium of the air.

It may appear strange to say that spiritual activities worked upon man through the air in a far-off past. I have already said that we should not understand our own inner life of soul and spirit if we were to conceive of it merely as so many concepts and ideas, if we did not know that it has been bestowed by the whole external world. Anyone who stated that concepts and ideas arise within man, even though there may be no ideas in the external world, might just as well say that he can obtain water from an empty glass. Our concepts would be so much froth if they were anything else than what is living in the objects outside us and the laws within them. The elements brought to life in the soul are drawn from the world around us. We may say, therefore, that everything around us in the material world is permeated and woven through by Spiritual Beings. However strange it may appear, the air around us is not merely the substance revealed by Chemistry; spiritual beings, spiritual activities are working within it. Through the blood warmth proceeding from the Ego (for that is the essential point), we can to a very small extent mould our physical body. The spiritual beings preceding the Ego performed mighty things in the outer form of our physical body through the medium of the air. That is the important thing.

It is the form of the larynx, and all that is connected with it, that makes us man. This marvellous organ and its relation to the other instruments of speech has been elaborated artistically out of the spiritual element of the air. Goethe said so beautifully in speaking of the eye: “The eye has formed itself from the light, for the light.” To say in the sense of Schopenhauer that “without an eye sensitive to the light, the impression of the light would not exist for us,” is only half a truth. The other half is that we should have no eyes if the light, in a primordial past, had not plastically elaborated the eye from undifferentiated organs. In the light, therefore, we must not merely see the abstract essence described to-day by Physical Science as light; we have to seek in the light the hidden essence that is able to create an eye.

In another sphere, it is the same thing as if we were to say that the air is permeated and ensouled by a Being who at a certain epoch was able to mould in man the highly artistic organ of the larynx and all that is related to it. All the rest of the human form, — down to the smallest details, — has been so formed and plastically moulded that at the present stage man is, so to speak, a further elaboration of his organs of speech. The organs of speech are fundamental to the human form. Hence, it is speech that raises man above the animal. The Spiritual Being whom we call the “Spirit of the Air,” has indeed worked in and moulded the animal nature, but the activity did not reach the point of development of a speech organism such as is possessed by man. With the exception, for example, of what has been elaborated unconsciously by the Ego in the brain and in the perfecting of the senses, — everything, that is, except the products of Ego activity, — has proceeded from a higher activity preceding that of the human Ego, whose purpose it was to create man's body out of a further elaboration of his organs of speech. There is no time now to explain why the birds, for instance, in spite of their perfection of song, have remained at a stage where their form cannot, be an expression of the organs of speech.

So far, then, as the instruments of speech are concerned, man was already inwardly organised before he arrived at the stage of thinking, feeling and willing as he does to-day. These latter processes are connected with the Ego. We can now understand that the higher Spiritual activities, having created the astral, etheric and physical bodies through the influences of the air, could only so mould the physical body that it ultimately became a kind of appendage of man's instruments of speech. When man had been thus presented with an organ responding to the so-called “Spirit of the Air” (in the same sense as the eye responds to the spiritual essence of the light), his Ego could project into this organ its own functions of intelligence, consciousness and feeling. A threefold subconscious activity, — an activity in the physical, etheric and astral bodies precedes the activity of the Ego. A keystone for the understanding of this is our knowledge that it was due to the “Group-soul,” which has, of course, worked upon the animal also, but imperfectly. This must be taken into consideration in our study of the spiritual activity in the astral body preceding that of the Ego. In such a study, we must eliminate any conception of the Ego itself, but bear in mind all that has been brought about by the Group-Ego from mysterious depths of being. Desire and enjoyment, in an imperfect, chaotic condition, confront each other in the astral body. Desire could become a soul-quality, could be transformed into an inner faculty, because it already had a precursor in the astral body of man.

Similarly, the capacity for the formation of pictures, a symbol-creating faculty, inheres, in the etheric body, confronting outer stimuli. A distinction must be made between this pre-Ego activity of the etheric body and the Ego activity itself. When the Ego is functioning as intellectual soul, it seeks, at the present stage of human development, to present as Truth what is the most faithful image of external objects. Anything that does not correspond to outer objects is said to be ‘untrue.’ The spiritual activities preceding the operations of the Ego did not function in this way; they were more symbolical, picture-like, more or less like a dream. We may dream, for instance, that a shot is fired, and on waking find that a chair beside the bed has fallen down. The outer event and impression (the falling chair) are transformed in the dream into a sense image, the shot. The spiritual beings preceding the Ego “symbolised,” and this is what we ourselves do when we rise to higher spiritual activity through Initiation. At that stage, we try, but with full consciousness, to work our way from the merely abstract outer world into a symbolising, imaginative activity.

These spiritual beings worked yet further on the human physical body, making man into an expression of the correspondence between outer happenings or facts, and imitation. In the child, for instance, we find imitation when the other members of the soul are as yet but little developed. Imitation is a process belonging to the subconscious essence of man's nature. Therefore, early education should be based on imitation, for it exists as a natural impulse in the human being before the Ego begins to regulate the inner activities of soul. The impulse to imitate in presence of outer activities, in the physical body, the symbolising process in the etheric body in response to outer stimuli, and the so-called correspondence between desire and enjoyment in the astral body, — all these things must be thought of as elaborated through the agency of the air. Their plastic, artistic impression has been worked into the larynx and the whole apparatus of speech. The Beings who preceded the Ego, then, formed and moulded man in this threefold sense, and thus the air can come to expression in the human being.

When we study the faculty of speech in the true sense we must ask: is speech the “tone” that we produce? No, it is not. Our Ego sets in movement, and gives form to what has been moulded and incorporated in us through the air. Just as we set the eye in movement in order to receive the light that is working externally (the eye itself is there for the reception of light), so, within ourselves, from out of the Ego, those organs which have been elaborated from the spiritual essence of the air are set in movement; and then we must wait until the spirit of the air itself sounds back to us as the echo of our own “air activity,” — the tone. We do not produce the tone any more than the single parts of a flute produce the tone. We produce from our own being, the activity which the Ego is able to develop by using the organs which have been elaborated from out the spirit of the air. Then it must be left to the spirit of the air to set the air in movement again, by means of the same activity which has produced the organs. Thus the word sounds forth.

Human speech is founded on the threefold correspondence, of which I have spoken. But what is it that must correspond? Upon what has imitation to be based in the physical body? Imitation in the physical body must be based upon the fact that, in the movements of our vocal organs, we imitate the outer activities and objects which we perceive and which make an impression upon us; that we produce the echo of what we have in the first place heard echoing as tone, imitating through the physical body the thing that has made an external impression upon us. The painter imitates a scene which is made up of quite other elements than colour and canvas, light and shade. Just as the painter imitates by manipulating light and shade, so do we imitate what comes to us from outside, by setting our organs in movement, imitatively, — organs which have been elaborated out of the element of the air. What we bring forth in the sound, is therefore an actual imitation of the essential being of things. Our consonants and vowels are nothing but reflections and imitations of impressions from outside.

In the etheric body, we have a picture-forming, symbolising activity. Hence we can understand that although the earliest beginnings of our speech arose through imitation, a development took place in that the process tore itself loose, as it were, from the external impressions, and was then further elaborated. In symbolism, — as in the dream, — the etheric body elaborates something that no longer resembles the outer impressions, and the continued operation of the sound, consists in this. First of all, the etheric body works upon something that is mere imitation; this mere imitation is transformed by it, and becomes an independent process. So that what we have inwardly elaborated, corresponds only in a symbolical sense, as sense-imagery, to the outer impressions. Our activity is no longer merely imitative.

Finally, there is a third element, — desire, emotion, everything that lives inwardly. This expresses itself in the astral body, and works in such a way, that it gives further form to the tone. These inner experiences stream from within outwards into the tone. Sorrow and joy, pleasure and pain, desire, wish, — all these things flow into it, and impart to it a subjective element. First there is the process of mere imitation. This is further developed as speech symbolism in the tone- or word-picture that has become an independent entity, and this is now again transformed by being permeated with man's inner experiences of sorrow and joy, pleasure and pain, horror, fright and so forth. It must always be an outer correspondence that first wrests itself from the soul, in the tone. But when the soul expresses its experiences, and allows them to sound forth, as it were, it has first to seek for the corresponding outer experience. The third element, then, where pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, horror and so on, express themselves inwardly, psychically, in the tone, has first to seek for its correspondence. In imitation there is an after-copy of the external impression; the inner tone-picture, the symbol that has arisen, is the next development; but what man allows to sound forth, merely from inner joy, pain, and so on, would only be a radiation or emanation to which nothing could correspond.

When children learn to speak, we can continually observe the correspondence between outer being and inner experience. The child begins to translate something it feels into sound. When it cries “Mamma,” “Papa,” this is nothing but an inner transfusion of emotion into sound, the externalisation of an inward element. When the child expresses itself thus, its mother comes to it and the child notices that an outer occurrence corresponds to the expression of joy poured into the sound “Mamma.” Naturally, the child does not ask how it happens that in this case its mother comes to it. The inner experience of joy, or pain, associates itself with the outer impression. This is the third way in which speech operates.

It may therefore be said that speech has arisen just as much from without, inwards, through imitation, as through the association of external reality with the expression of the inner being. What has led to the formation of the words “Mamma,” “Papa,” from the expression of the inner being, which feels satisfaction when the mother comes, occurs in innumerable cases. Wherever the human being perceives that something happens as the result of an inner utterance, the expression of the inner being unites itself with the external fact.

All this takes place without the co-operation of the Ego. The Ego only later takes over this activity. Thus we can see how an activity, preceding that of the Ego, worked at the configuration which lies at the basis of man's faculty of expression in speech. And because the Ego makes its entrance after the foundations for speech have already been created, speech, in turn, accommodates itself to the nature of the Ego. As a result, utterances corresponding to the sentient body are permeated with the sentient soul; the pictures and symbols corresponding to the etheric body are permeated with the intellectual soul. Man pours into the sound what he experiences in the intellectual soul, and this was at first, mere imitation. Thus, do those elements of our speech, which are reproductions of inner experiences of the soul, come gradually into existence.

In order, therefore, to understand the essential nature of speech, we must realise that there lives within us, something that was active before the Ego, and any of its activities were there; into this, the Ego afterwards poured what it is able to elaborate. We must not demand that speech shall exactly correspond to what originates in the Ego, to all the spirituality and intimacies of our individual being. Speech can never be the direct expression of the Ego. The activity of the spirit of speech, is of a symbolical nature in the etheric body, imitative in the physical body. All this in conjunction with what is elaborated by the spirit of speech, from out the sentient soul, — for it projects the inner experiences from that domain, in such a way that we have in the sound an emanation of the inner life, — justifies us in saying that speech has not been elaborated by the methods of the conscious Ego, as we know it to-day. The development of speech, is indeed, only comparable to artistic activity. We cannot demand that speech shall be an exact copy of what it intends to present, any more than we can demand that the artist's imitation shall correspond to reality. Speech only reproduces the external, in the sense in which the artist's picture reproduces it. Before man was a self-conscious spirit, in the modern sense, an artist, working as the spirit of speech, was active. This is a somewhat figurative way of speaking, but it expresses the truth. It is a subconscious activity that has produced the speaking human being, as a work of art. By analogy, speech must be conceived of as a work of art, but we must not forget, that each work of art can only be understood within the scope of that particular art. Speech itself, therefore, must necessarily impose certain limits upon us. If this were taken into consideration, a pedantic effort, like Fritz Mauthner's ‘Critique of Speech,’ would have been impossible from the very outset. In that work, the critique of speech is built upon entirely false premises. When we examine human languages, says Mauthner, we find that they by no means, correctly reproduce the objective reality of things. Yes, but are they intended to do so? Is there any possibility of their doing so? No; no more than it is possible for the picture to reproduce external reality by the colours, lights and shades, on the canvas. The spirit of speech underlying this activity of man, must be conceived in an artistic sense.

It has only been possible to speak of these things in bare outline. But when we know that an Artist, who moulds speech, is at work in humanity, we shall understand that however different the single languages may be, artistic power has been at work in them all. When this ‘spirit of speech,’ as we will now call the being working through the air, has manifested at a comparatively low stage in man, its action has been like that of the atomistic spirit, which would build up everything out of the single particles. It is then possible to build up a language where a whole sentence is composed of single sound-pictures.

When in the Chinese language, for instance, we find the sounds ‘Shi’ and ‘King,’ we have two ‘atoms’ of speech formation, the one syllable ‘Shi,’ or song, and ‘King,’ book. Putting the two sound-pictures together — ‘Shi-King,’ we should have the German ‘Liederbuch’ (English, Song-Book). This ‘atomising’ process results in something that is conceived of as one whole, ‘Song-Book.’ That is a small example of how the Chinese language gives form to concepts and ideas.

If we elaborate what has been said to-day, we can understand how to study the spirit of so marvelously constructed a language as the Semitic, for instance. The foundation of the Semitic language lies in certain tone-pictures, consisting really, only of consonants. Into these tone-pictures, vowels are inserted. If, for the mere sake of example we take the consonants q—t—l, and insert an ‘ a ’ and again ‘ a ’, we obtain the word ‘qatal’ (German, töten, to kill), whereas the word consisting of consonants only is the mere imitation of an external sound impression.

This is a remarkable permeation, for ‘qatal,’ to kill, has come into existence as a sound picture, through the fact that the outer happening or event has been imitated by the organs of speech; that is the original sound picture. The soul elaborates this, by adding something that can only be an inner experience. The sound picture is further developed and the killing referred to a subject. Fundamentally speaking, the whole Semitic language has been built up in this way. The working together of the different elements of speech-formation is expressed in the whole construction of the Semitic language, in the symbolising element that is pre-eminently active. The activity of the spirit of speech in the etheric body is revealed in the characteristics of the Semitic language, where all the single, imitated sound-pictures are elaborated and transformed into sense images by the insertion of vowels. All words in the Semitic language are fundamentally so formed, that they are related to the external world, as sense images.

In contrast to this, the elements in the Indo-Germanic languages are stimulated more by the inner expression of the astral body, of the inner being. The astral body is already bound up with consciousness. When man confronts the outer world, he distinguishes himself from it. When he confronts the outer world, from the point of view of the etheric body, he mingles, and is one with it. Only when objects are reflected in the consciousness, does he distinguish himself from them. This activity of the astral body, with its wholly inward experience, is wonderfully expressed in the Indo-Germanic languages — in contrast to the Semitic — in that they include the verb ‘to be,’ — the affirmation of what is there without our co-operation. This is possible because man distinguishes himself from what causes the outer impression. If, therefore, a Semitic language wants to express ‘God is good,’ it is not directly possible. The word ‘is’, which expresses existence, cannot be rendered, because it is derived from the antithesis of astral body, and external world. The etheric body, simply presents things. Therefore, in the Semitic language, we should have to say ‘God the Good.’ The confronting of subject and object is not expressed. In these Indo-Germanic languages there is differentiation from the outer world; they contain the element of a tapestry of perceptions spread out over the external world. These in turn, react on the human being, strengthening and giving support to the quality of ‘inwardness,’ that is to say, all that may be spoken of as the predisposition to build up strong individuality, a strong Ego.

It may seem to many of you that I have only been able to give unsatisfactory indications, but it would be necessary to speak for a fortnight if a detailed exposition of speech were to be given. Only those who have heard many such lectures, and have entered into the spirit of them, will realise that a stimulus such as has been given to-day is not without justification.

The only intention has been to show that it is possible to acquire a conception of speech and language in the sense of Spiritual Science, and this leads us to realise that speech can only be understood with the artistic sense which must first have been developed. All learning will be shipwrecked if it is not willing to recreate what the ‘artist of speech’ has moulded in man before the Ego was able to work within him. Only the artistic sense can understand the mysteries of speech; the artistic sense alone can recreate. Learned abstractions can never make a work of art intelligible. Only those ideas which are able fruitfully to recreate what the artist has expressed with other media, — colour, tone, and so on, — can shed light on a work of art. Artistic feeling alone can understand the artist; artists of speech alone can understand the creative Spiritual element in the origin of speech. This is one thing that Spiritual Science has to accomplish with regard to the domain of speech.

The other thing has its bearing in practical life itself. When we understand how speech has proceeded from an inner, prehuman artist, we shall also realise that when we want to speak or express through speech, something that claims to be authoritative, this artistic sense must be allowed to come into play. There is not much realisation of this in our modern age, when there is so little living feeling for speech. To-day, if a man can speak at all, he imagines that he is at liberty to express everything. What should be realised is that we must recreate in the soul a direct connection between what we wish to express in speech, and how we express it. The artist of speech, ‘in all domains’ must be reawakened within us. To-day, people are satisfied with any form that is given to what they want to say. How many people realise that the artistic feeling for speech and language is necessary in every description or thesis? This, however, is absolutely essential in the domain of Spiritual Science. Examine any genuine writings in the sphere of Spiritual Science and you will find that a true Spiritual Scientist has tried to mould each sentence artistically; he does not place a verb arbitrarily at the beginning or end. You will find that every sentence is a ‘birth ‘ because it must be experienced, not merely as thought, but inwardly in the soul, as actual form. If you follow the coherence of what is written, you will find that in three consecutive sentences, the middle one is not merely an appendage of the first, and the third of the second. The third sentence is already there in germ, before the second is built up, because the force of the middle sentence must depend on what has remained of the force in the first, and this must in turn pass over to the third. In Spiritual Science, one cannot create without the artistic feeling for language. Nothing else is of any use. The essential point is to free ourselves from being slavishly chained to the words, and this cannot happen if we imagine that any word can express a thought, for our speech formation is then already at fault. Words which are coined wholly for the world of sense, can never adequately express super-sensible facts. Those who ask, ‘how can one describe the etheric or astral body concretely by a word,’ have understood nothing at all of these things. Only that man has understood who says to himself, ‘I will experience what the etheric body really is from the one aspect before I allow myself to write a single page about it, and I will realise that it is a question of artistic imagery. Then I will describe it from the other three aspects.’ In such a case, we have the matter presented from four different aspects, so that the presentations given through language are really artistic imagery. If this is not realised, we shall have nothing but abstractions and an emaciated repetition of what is already known. Hence, development in Spiritual Science will always be bound up with a development of an inner understanding of the plastic forces of speech. In this sense Spiritual Science will work fruitfully upon our present atrocious style of speech which reveals no indication of the nature of artistic power. If it were otherwise, so many people who can really hardly speak or write, would not rush into literary activity. People have long ago lost the realisation that prose writing, for instance, is a much higher activity than writing verse, only, of course, the prose that is written to-day is of a much lower order.

Spiritual Science is there to impart, in every domain, the stimulus connected with the deepest spheres of human life. In this sense, Spiritual Science will fulfil the dreams of the greatest men. It will be able to conquer the super-sensible worlds through thought, and so to pour out the thoughts into sound pictures that speech can again become an instrument for communicating the vision of the soul in super-sensible worlds. Then Spiritual Science will fulfil, in ever-increasing measure, a saying relating to this important region of man's inner being: ‘Immeasurably deep is thought, and its winged instrument is the word.’

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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