Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib
The Human Being in Body, Soul, and Spirit
Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document
The Human Being in Body, Soul, and Spirit
The Origin of Speech and Language
A lecture by
Dornach, August 2, 1922
Copyright © 1989
The lecture presented here was given in Dornach on August 2, 1922.
It is the first lecture in the series The Human Being in Body,
Soul, and Spirit. In the collected edition of Rudolf Steiner's
works, the volume containing the German texts is entitled,
Die Erkenntnis des Menschenwesens Nach Leib, Seele und Geist.
Über Fruehe Erdzustaende. (Vol. 347 in the Bibliographic
This e.Text edition is provided with the cooperation of:
The Anthroposophic Press
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Thanks to an anonymous donation, this lecture has been made available.
The lectures for
workers could also rightly be called dialogs, for upon Rudolf
Steiner's insistence their content was always determined by the
workers themselves. They could choose the topics; Rudolf Steiner
encouraged them to raise questions, to express their opinions and
objections. Far-reaching, momentous issues as well as matters closer
to home were discussed. There was a particularly great interest in
questions of therapy and hygiene; this proved how much such problems
were a part of the workers' daily concerns. Nature with its mineral,
plant, and animal kingdoms was also touched upon, and this then led
outward again, to the cosmos, the origin of all life. Finally, the
workers asked for an introduction to spiritual science and for the
basic knowledge required for an understanding of the mystery of
spiritual work grew out of a course originally held by Dr. Roman Boos
after hours on the construction site for those interested in such
questions. Later, other members of the Anthroposophical Society
continued these courses. Then the workers asked Rudolf Steiner
whether he himself could attend to them and quench their thirst for
knowledge. They also asked to be allowed to use an hour of their work
time for this when they would still be fresh and receptive. Thus, the
hour after the midmorning break was set aside for the lectures.
Several employees of the site office also at-tended as well as two or
three of Dr. Steiner's closest colleagues.
matters were also discussed in these lectures, for example,
beekeeping. The notes of the lectures on bees were published after
Rudolf Steiner's death by the Agricultural Section at the Goetheanum
as a brochure for its members.
Now more and
more people expressed the desire to read the lectures for workers.
However, these lectures had been intended for a particular audience;
Rudolf Steiner spoke extemporaneously, in a special situation, guided
by the mood and circumstances of the listening workers —
definitely not with a view to publication. The tone and style of
these lectures have a certain freshness and directness one would not
want to miss.
style would rob them of their special atmosphere that grew out of the
encounter between what lived in the souls of the questioners and what
lived in the soul of the answerer. A pedantic rearrangement of the
sentences would take away the unique “flavor” of these
lectures. Therefore, we have tried to leave them unchanged as far as
possible; these lectures may not conform to literary standards, but
they have immediacy and life.
gentlemen. Today we will add to what we have heard on previous
occasions so that we will be better able to understand the full
dignity of the human being.
I have explained
roughly how nutrition and breathing work in human beings. We also
talked about how closely connected nutrition is with our life and
that it is essentially a process of taking in substances that are
then lifeless in our intestines. These substances are then
re-enlivened by the lymph vessels, and in the process they are
transmitted into the blood. There this living nourishment encounters
the oxygen of the air. We take in air. The blood changes. This
process occurs in the chest, and it is this process that gives us our
actually originates between the processes in the intestines and those
in the blood. In turn, in the blood processes, that is, between the
activities of the blood and the air, our feelings come about. Now we
have to deal with the human mind as well and try to understand how it
understanding the external aspect of the mind has become possible
only in the last sixty years. Last year, in 1921, we could have
celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of this possibility. We did not,
because in our time people are not very interested in celebrating
purely scientific anniversaries. The discovery made in 1861 we could
have celebrated sixty years later, was an important scientific
discovery. It is only in the last fifty or sixty years that this
matter can really be talked about. I remember it because it is just
as old as I am. The discovery I am speaking of is the following.
I told you the
other day how we can observe human beings. We do not need to
experiment; all we need to do is pay attention to how nature
experiments with people whenever they have any kind of illness. If we
know how to look at what happens to the physical body when a person
becomes ill in any way, we discover that nature herself arranged such
an experiment for us and that we can gain insights from it.
Well, in 1861,
when Broca dissected brains of deceased people who had speech
impairments, he discovered that they had had an injury in the third
convolution on the left side of the brain.
You know, don't
you, that when we remove the top of the skull, we can see the brain?
This brain has convolutions. We call one of them the temple
convolution because it is located near the temple. Well now, in every
person suffering from speech impediments or. muteness, there is some
damage in this left convolution of the brain. This injury happens
when someone has a so-called brain stroke. What happens in that case?
The blood, which normally flows only through the vessels, is forced
out through their walls and enters the tissue surrounding the
vessels, where it should not be. Such a hemorrhage produces the
stroke, the paralysis. In other words, whenever blood flows into the
wrong place, into this convolution of the brain, it ultimately
disables this temple convolution completely and prevents the person
This is an
interesting connection: Human beings can speak because they have a
healthy left convolution of the brain. We must now understand what it
means when a person has a healthy left convolution of the brain. But
in order to grasp this, we need to look at something else first.
When we examine
this same area of the brain in small children who have passed away,
we find that this portion constitutes a fairly uniform, mushlike
substance, especially at the time before the child has learned to
speak. As the infant gradually learns to speak, more and more small
whorls develop here. They continue to form in an artful way. In other
words, the left cerebral convolutions in the child who has learned to
speak or in a fully grown adult are artfully structured.
means that something happened to the brain while the child learned to
speak. And we should not think about this any differently than we
think in ordinary life. You see, if I move a table from there to
here, nobody would say the table moved itself this way. It would be
just as wrong for me to say that the brain has formed these
convolutions by itself. Instead, I must think about what has actually
taken place and what caused it. In other words, I must ask why the
left temple convolution developed this way.
You see, when
children learn to speak, they move their body. In particular, they
move their speech organs. Before that, when they could not yet talk,
they were merely fidgety, cried, and so forth. As long as the child
is only able to cry, its left convolution of the brain is still a
“mush,” as I described it. The more the child learns not
merely to cry but also to turn this crying into individual sounds,
the more this convolution receives definite shape. As long as the
infant simply cries, there is only brain mush in this area. When the
child begins to utter sounds, this uniform mush is transformed into
the artfully structured left portion of the brain we can see in
the matter stands like this: When children cry, the sounds they utter
are mainly vowels such as A (as in “father”) or
E (as in “gate”). When they merely cry like this,
they do not need a developed left cerebral convolution; the children
utter these sounds out of themselves, without having anything artful
developed in the brain. If we pay some attention, we will discover
that children initially make A sounds; later on they add those
of U (as in “shoe”) and I
(“bee”). Gradually, as you know, they also learn to utter
consonants. First they form the sound A; then they add
M or W and say MA or WA. In other words,
out of their crying children gradually manage to form words by adding
consonants to the vowels.
And how do they
form these consonants? All you need to do is to pay attention to how
you pronounce, for example, an M. You'll see that you must
move your lips. When you were a child, you had to learn this through
imitation. If you say L, you must move your tongue. Thus, you
must always move some organs. From mere fidgeting the child must
progress to regular movements, carried out by the speech organs in
imitation. The more the child moves beyond the vowels formed in mere
crying and utters consonants such as L, M; N, R, the more the
left cerebral convolution is structured in an artful way.
Now we could ask
how children initially learn to speak. They learn to speak only
through imitation. They learn to speak, to move their lips, by
imitating out of their feelings the way other people move their lips.
All of this is imitation. This means that children take in, see,
perceive what happens around them. And this perceiving, this mental
activity, forms the brain. Just as a carver shapes a piece of wood or
a sculptor works on marble and bronze, so the child's movements
“sculpt” the brain. The organs the child moves carry
their movements right into the brain.
If I want to
pronounce L, I have to use my tongue. The tongue is connected
with the brain through nerves and through other organs. This L
penetrates into my left cerebral convolution and produces a structure
there. In other words, the L produces forms in which one
section joins the next, resembling the intestines. The M
produces spherical convolutions. So you see, these sounds work on the
The movements of
the organs the child activates through observation are at work here
in the brain. It is very interesting that since it became known that
a brain stroke damages the left cerebral convolution, thus destroying
the ability to speak, it became possible to know that the formation
of vowels and consonants by the child continuously works on this
convolution. This in turn is based on the fact that the eyes and
other sense organs perceive what takes place in the world around
And what happens
in the world around us? Well, you see, whenever we speak we are also
breathing. We breathe continuously. And in this process, every breath
first enters the human body, moves up the spinal column and enters
the brain. This means that even while the child is crying —
though as yet unable to pronounce consonants — this breath
moves up and enters the brain.
What is actually
entering the brain in this process? Well, blood, of course. As I
explained to you in the last few days, blood flows everywhere.
Through our breathing, blood is constantly being pushed into the
brain. This activity begins the very moment we are born and even
before, except then it occurs in a different manner. Anyhow, when we
are born, we begin to breathe. This intake of air begins, which then
pushes blood into the brain.
Thus we can say
that as long as the baby's breathing merely pushes blood into the
brain, it can only cry. Children begin to speak when not only blood
is forced into the brain, but when they also perceive something
through their eyes or any other organ, especially the ears. In other
words, whenever they see another person move, children inwardly
repeat this movement. At this moment not only the bloodstream goes up
to the head, but another stream goes there as well, for instance,
from the ears — the stream of the nerves.
In the left
cerebral convolution, like everywhere else in the human body, blood
vessels and nerve fibers meet. The latter are affected by what we
observe and perceive. The child's movements in uttering consonants
reach the left convolution, that of speech, via the nerves. This area
is structured by the combined effect of the breathing, which is
carried there by the blood, and of whatever activity comes in through
the ears and the eyes. In other words, blood and nerves together
structure this brain mush beautifully. Thus we see that, at least in
this particular region (and it will later be found to be the same way
in others), our brain is actually structured through the combined
activity of perception (via the nerves) and of the constant intake of
breath, which pushes the blood into the brain.
At this point,
we need to understand also that this is how the child learns to
speak, that is, by developing the left cerebral convolution. But,
gentlemen, when you dissect a corpse, you will find that the right
convolution of the brain, though symmetrically placed, shows
relatively little structuring. On the one hand, we have the left
convolution, which is beautifully formed, as I said before. On the
other, we have the right one, which throughout life usually remains
the way it was in the young child, that is, unstructured. I could
say, if we had only the right convolution, we would only be able to
cry. It is only because we so artfully structure the left convolution
that we are able to speak.
You see, it is
only when a person is left-handed and habitually tends to do most of
his work with the left hand that, strangely enough, he will not lose
his capacity for speech even when his left side is affected by a
stroke. Dissection will reveal that in the case of this left-handed
person, the right convolution of the brain was structured in the same
way as the left convolution of right-handed people normally is.
Movements of arms and hands, then, have a strong bearing on the
formation of the brain.
Why is that so?
You see, this comes about because when a person is used to doing a
lot of things with his right hand, he does not merely do them with
this hand, but he also gets into the habit of breathing a bit more
strongly on the right side, of exerting more of an effort there. He
also gets into the habit of hearing more clearly on the right side,
and so forth. All of this merely points to the fact that the person
in the habit of using his right hand develops the tendency to be more
active on that side than on the left.
When a person is
right-handed, the left convolution of the brain is structured; when
he is left-handed, the right convolution is structured. What is the
reason for this? Well, gentlemen, when you look at the right arm and
hand and the head and the left cerebral convolution and then examine
where the nerves are, you will find that there are nerves everywhere
in the human body. If you did not have nerves everywhere, you could
not feel warm or cold. These sensations have to do with the nerves.
You have nerves everywhere in your body.
They go up the
spine and reach right into the brain. But the remarkable thing is
that the nerves coming from the right hand lead into the left portion
of the brain, and the ones in the other hand are connected with the
right side of the brain. This is because the nerves cross. Yes, the
nerves cross in the brain. For instance, if I do a gymnastics
exercise or a eurythmic movement with my right hand or the right arm,
I sense the activity through this nerve, but I become aware of it in
the left half of the brain because the nerves cross.
Let us now
imagine that a child prefers to do everything with the right hand.
Then the child will also breathe a bit more strongly on the right
side and will also hear and see a bit better on that side. The person
will make greater efforts on that side and through his movements
develop something that reaches into the left side of the brain. Now
you only need to imagine that we have the habit of making certain
gestures while speaking, such as Ah! (corresponding gesture);
or if we reject something: Eh! These gestures are perceived by
our nerves. Now, the movements we make with the right hand while
speaking are experienced by the left side of the brain.
By the same
token, those of us who are right-handed have the tendency of
pronouncing vowels and consonants more strongly with the right half
of the larynx. Again these activities are taken in more vividly with
the left side of the brain. This is why the brain, originally more
like mush, is now a lot more structured. In contrast, we use the left
side of our body much less, and that is why the right half of the
brain is less developed and remains mush. However, when someone is
left-handed, the opposite process takes place.
These facts lead
to important conclusions for education. Just think, when you have
left-handed children (you will have a few of them), you must tell
yourself that whereas all the others have a very artfully developed
left convolution of the brain, in the left-handed children the right
convolution is structured. When I teach writing, I use my right hand.
In this activity, the right-handed children will merely reinforce
what they have begun to develop in their left brain convolution when
they began learning to speak. However, if I now force the left-handed
children to write with their right hand, I will destroy the
development that learning to speak has produced in their right
cerebral convolution. Yes, this development will be destroyed.
left-handed children are not supposed to write with their left hand,
my task is now to gradually direct everything previously carried out
by the left hand to the right one. This way they will initially learn
to do simple things with the right hand and get into writing much
more slowly than the other children. But it does not matter if they
learn to write a bit later. If I simply were to make left-handed
children write as fast as the right-handed ones, I would make them
less intelligent because I would ruin the development that has taken
place in the right side of the brain. Therefore, I must make sure to
treat left-handed children differently from right-handed ones when I
teach them to write. This approach will not make them less
intelligent in later life, but more so, because I gradually transform
their left-handedness into right-handedness, instead of merely
getting their entire brain confused through making them write with
the right hand immediately. If you want to affect the entire human
being through writing and force this change to the right hand,
pedagogically speaking, you would achieve the very opposite of what
you are striving for.
Nowadays we find
a widespread tendency of teaching people to do everything with both
hands. This is how we really get their brains mixed up. This tendency
of making people do the same thing both with the right and the left
hand merely proves how little we know. Mind you, we can strive for
such an ideal, but before we could realize it, we would have to
change something. Gentlemen, we would first have to change the entire
human being! We would slowly have to shift activities from the left
side to the right and then gradually reduce them on the right. What
would happen then? You see, what would happen is that, below the
surface, the left cerebral convolution would be more artfully formed;
but on the outside, it would remain mush. The same would happen to
the right convolution. Instead of distributing two activities between
the left and the right sides, we would develop each convolution into
an outer and an inner half.
portion would be more suitable for speech; the outer one would exist
merely in order to add the vowels and consonants in crying. However,
speech is a combination of what happens in crying and in
articulating. This remains the same throughout life.
You see, we
cannot just tinker with human beings and their development. In
education, even in the lower grades, we need an understanding of the
entire human being. For with everything we do we change the human
being. The really criminal thing is that nowadays people monkey
around considering only superficial things and ignore the inner
effects of what they do.
few people have both sides of the brain fully developed. Usually the
right convolution contains more blood vessels, whereas the left one
has fewer and instead is more permeated with nerves. This holds true
for the human brain generally; the right side carries more blood, and
the left is more used for perceiving.
Once we realize
that the brain is shaped under external influences, we can appreciate
how important these influences from the outside are. We see that they
are tremendously significant once we understand that they affect
everything that takes place in the brain. Also, out of the
understanding of what occurs in the brain when we speak, we can get
an idea of how the human brain works.
You see, when we
examine it further, we discover that there are always more blood
vessels on the outside wall of the brain than inside it. Thus we can
say that the exterior part of the brain contains more blood and the
interior more nerves.
Let us now
consider a child learning to speak in the ordinary way, a
right-handed child. How is the brain of such a child being formed?
First of all, the brain of a young child is surrounded by a layer or
coat, so to speak, of blood vessels. Then nerve tracts begin to form.
Because of this, gentlemen, because of these nerve tracts in there,
the inner brain substance appears whitish when you take it out and
look at it. However, when you take out the brain matter surrounding
it, it looks reddish-grey because it contains so many blood
Now what happens
in this region when the child learns to speak and consequently the
left cerebral convolution is structured accordingly? What takes
place, you see, is that the nerve bundles, as it were, gradually
extend more toward the inside and less in the area where the blood
system expands. In other words, in children who develop normally the
inner part of the brain shifts more to the left and the remaining
portion follows. The brain thus moves to the left side, where it
turns ever more whitish. It shifts that way. All of human development
is based on such artful details.
Now let us talk
some more about speech. You see, there are languages that have many
consonants and others that contain many vowels such as A, E, I
and so forth. In some languages people squeeze out the sounds, like
S, W, so that one barely hears the vowels. What lies behind
We know that
languages differ in different regions of the earth. What does it mean
when someone lives in a certain area where people focus more on the
consonants? It means that he or she experiences the outer world more,
for the consonants are formed in the experience of the surroundings.
Therefore, in people living more in the physical world the white
portion of the brain shifts more to the left. In people experiencing
life more inwardly, people living in a region where things are
experienced more inwardly, the white brain matter does not move quite
so far to the left. These people will tend to utter melodious vowels.
This varies with the regions of the earth.
Let us now
assume the following, gentlemen: Let's imagine the earth and people
standing at various points on the earth. And one person, let us say,
is given a language rich in vowels and another one a language rich in
consonants. What must have happened in their respective regions? A
lot may have happened, quite a lot, but I want to focus on one thing
that may have taken place. Imagine that we have high mountains and a
level area, a plain. Picture then steep mountains on one side and a
plain on the other. Now, wherever there are flat regions, we perceive
that the language people speak there is richer in vowels. Wherever
there are steep mountains, the local language tends to be richer in
But you see,
this matter is not so simple after all, because we must ask how the
mountains and the plains came about. This is the way it is: We have
the earth, and the sun shines upon it. At one time our entire earth
was unformed mush. The mountains first had to be pulled out of this
mush. All right then, the earth was basically mush and the mountains
were pulled up out of this mush.
what was it that pulled the mountains up? The cosmic forces that work
out there did. We can say that there are certain forces of a cosmic
nature that pulled up these mountains. In some places the forces were
strong and developed mountains; in other places there were weaker
forces coming in out of the universe that did not produce mountains.
In this latter area the earth crust was not pulled up so strongly in
primeval times. And the people born on those parts of the earth crust
less affected by these cosmic forces use more vowels. Persons born in
areas more strongly influenced by the cosmic forces use more
consonants. We see now that the differences between languages are
connected with the forces of the entire universe.
Now how can we
support such a claim? Well, gentlemen, what we have claimed here must
be considered in the same way we look at clocks to check the time. We
look at the clock to see if we must start working or if it is time to
leave. But we never say, “Now this is too much! This awful
minute hand is a terrible fellow who whips me on to work.” We
wouldn't dream of saying that. All the clock does is tell us when we
have to go to work, and so we cannot blame it for having to work, can
we? In this case, the clock is completely innocent.
can look up to the sun and say that when we stand here at a certain
moment, the sun is between us and the constellation of Aries. That is
the direction where these strong cosmic forces work from. It is not
Aries itself, of course. This constellation merely indicates the
direction where the strong forces come from. If a person is standing
in a different place at that same time, he or she is affected as
follows: When the sun has moved to that place, it is in Virgo, let us
say. The forces coming from this direction are weaker. Instead of
going through the entire process now, I can therefore say that when
someone is born in an area where at a certain time, let's say at his
birth, the sun is in Aries, that person will tend to use more
consonants. However, when someone is born with the sun in Virgo, he
will tend to use more vowels.
You see, I can
read the entire zodiac like a clock from which I can see what happens
on earth. But I must always keep in mind that it is not the
constellations that cause these events; they are only indicators.
From this you can see that the zodiac can tell us a lot, even about
the reasons why the languages on earth differ.
Now, let us look
at the earth and imagine that we put a chair out there into space and
look back at the earth. Of course, this is only possible in our
imagination and not in reality. When we look from our chair in space
at the various languages on earth, as in a sort of language map, then
we get a certain picture. When we then turn the chair around and look
out into the universe, we get a picture of the stars. And the two
If we study the
Southern Hemisphere and the languages there and then turn the chair
around and examine the southern firmament, our experience is entirely
different from the one we would have if we did the same thing in the
Northern Hemisphere. This means that we could draw a map of the
starry skies above us, and from our study of the connection between
the stars and language we would then be able to tell which language
is spoken under a particular constellation.
You see now that
as soon as we begin to observe human spiritual life, for example, the
formation of our minds through speech, we must look up to the stars
in order to understand anything. The earth alone does not give us an
answer; you can think about why languages are different as long as
you like, but based on the earth alone you won't find an
If you want to
know what takes place in your stomach, you must examine the earth,
the soil below. If a region grows mainly cabbages, you will
understand that people there must constantly re-enliven in their
metabolism the heads of cabbage pulled out of the soil. In other
words, if you want to know what people in a certain area eat, you
must examine the soil. If you are interested in how people breathe in
a particular region, you have to study the atmosphere. And if you
want to know what happens inside the skull, in this brain of ours,
you must look at the position of the stars. You always have to see
the human being as an integrated part of the entire universe.
You see now that
it is indeed mere superstition to say, “Whenever the sun is in
Aries, such and such takes place.” This kind of statement is
not worth anything. However, if you understand the full context, the
matter ceases to be superstition and becomes science instead. And
that will lead us from understanding the transformation of substances
to an understanding of what is really happening and its connection to
the vast universe out there.