Words and Time

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15 Responses

  1. A.D. says:

    You will likely dismiss this as fanciful imagination akin to the gurgling of the linguist 🙂 , but I find it a pleasant idea. That is, the potential connection between Sanskrit and Croatian. Hrvati traced back to Harahvaiti, in the Persian, a corrupted version of Saraswati (Sanskrit) who was the Hindu goddess of language. She was the bringer of ”Vāc” or cosmic sound, which became speech – ie speech as not invented by humans but as revealed. Many words seem linked, even God being Bog (Croatian) and Bhaga (Sanskrit). Anyways there is stuff written about this idea, perhaps all rubbish, I don’t know.

    • Malić says:

      Not only Croatian, but European languages in general display such correspondences. To keep it Slavic, in Slovenian, for example, you have “Veda” for “Science”. And there are many more apparently identical words in Croatian, too. However, this podcast was meant merely to put forward a certain general perspective, hardly an impediment on linguists or philosophers who investigate this. The gist of it is the critique of reductionism, where imaginary, atomic, “events” are invented to explain something. Correspondences you point out are a whole different subject.

      • Han Fei says:

        To reply to A.D.’s post. While it’s true that the European languages share a common Indo-European root, Southern Slavic languages are especially close to the Indo Aryan family in terms of grammar, morphology, inflection, composition structure and so on so forth. The etymology of many common words is frighteningly similar, as is the phonological structure of spoken words. To be fair we have to keep in mind that Sanskrit was a strongly culturally conditioned language, subject to significant artificial development over the centuries. Last but not least the Orthodox religion shares many concepts with ancient Vedic and Avestan belief concepts and practices, although that’s not to imply that one derived from the other, as the readers of this site would likely have an entirely different take on why this could be so. In summary the connection between Slavic, especially Southern Slavic languages to ancient Iranian and north-Indian language groups the can hardly be called trivial.

  2. Mihai says:

    We also have the word “tvoreț” in Romanian, though it is out of use today. Of course, it comes from the Slavic part of our lexical background.

    The origins and the metaphysical dimension of language has long been one of my favourite subjects of inquiry. It is one of the most mysterious aspects of our existence. Its origins are impossible to discover empirically- only symbolically: Adam naming the animals and all things in the Garden. This search cannot but lead one to the highest mystery of human existence- being created in the image of God.

    The superficiality of our times include, at a very fundamental level, the decline of language. I don’t think that the technocratic, corporate jargon coming into almost every modern language from the Anglo world is something accidental or just a passing phenomenon. Rather it reveals something fundamental about the spirit of our age- which is the “de-essentializing” of our existence, a reduction of all things to technical, mechanistic and managerial relations. It is also an attempt (mostly unconscious, I believe) to create a Babel-like pseudo-unity.

    As a curiosity: was the idea for this podcast in anyway ignited by the “upright deeds being completed” question?

    • Malić says:

      No, interestingly enough. Its a preamble to a larger written work on something else that I am working on – just few ideas that occurred during writing and it was shame not to use them. But I see your point, it really dovetails on that subject.

    • A.D. says:

      On the matter of the decline of language (as you mention, Mihai), I have several friends who work as school teachers, my closest friend has taught small children for 35 years, and they have been telling me in recent years of a catastrophic decline in language among young children. One has described it as frightening. Their vocabularies are decreasing and, even of the words they still use, they often do not have a sense of the essential meaning of them. They experience failure to distinguish between prepositions, even as older children, eg ”to” and ”from”. A college lecturer pal of mine says young people ”cannot string two words together”; they are losing the skill of complex language, he says. A language deficit leads to a deficit of thinking ability. It is worrying.

      • Malić says:

        During my high school teacher days (cca beginning to end of the first decade of the Noughties), this was something that never ceased to astonish me at the work place. Even discussed it openly with kids who were on average quite intelligent and aware of the problem. The phenomena you describe occurred only when they were tasked with writing, while in speech they tended to be quite articulate. To cut the long story short, the only symptom I was able to isolate to my satisfaction was the nature of writing itself – it requires a certain isolation, being by oneself. This is obviously something kids have a huge problem to perform. There are, of course, other causes, but to get to grips with them it would require a major political push to diagnose the problems of educational system in a broader social context. For all the attempted reforms performed in my country, not a single iota was spoken about this publicly. In the context of education that kind of cognitive dissonance towards real problems, as opposed to meaningless adjustments of schools to “EU standards”, is so great that it defies belief.

        • A.D. says:

          That’s interesting, that you found it relates to writing, maybe it is the medium – in the electronic medium my spelling is appalling, for example. But my close friend who taught longest says it is also in speech – she had an interesting idea as to why, she said in older times the parents, often the Dad, would take the children on long Sunday drives, and tell them stories about the places they lived in, and add drama and etc., like most of us remember our parents doing – but now she said the kids have their heads to a screen and they don’t hear enough stories. Likewise parents working every hour have no time to talk to them. It is interesting you observed it there too, it is a serious problem. And I don’t know if it will be fixed.

        • Mihai says:

          As one who was born in the late 80s and grew up in the 90s- and in post-communist Eastern Europe- I can say from my own experience that the spirit of those times was “get rich fast, screw everything else”. This is what was promoted in society during those times- it was the time of pillaging of the carcass left by the fall of communism, and those who were the most ruthless (and connected to the former power structures) managed to make colossal fortunes in a matter of years, gained major public offices and, inevitably, shaped society according to their own image.

          Those were times of complete lack of any guidance. The only line school kids ever heard was that they had to study hard to get to good universities so that they can get better jobs and have a secure future- aka make more money. All the while the prevalent example all around us was drop-outs who got filthy rich by all sorts of “unorthodox means”- from stealing to speculations and so on.

          As a result of this, there was no impulse, no actual purpose for which someone would have wanted to get educated.
          The redemptive quality in those times was provided by the fact that we still grew up as normal kids used to- no gadgets, not a lot of computer games, no reasons to stick your face in a screen all the time- what this provided for us was at least the possibility to develop normal human faculties once the opportunity arose later in life (though still impaired to a high degree).

          As to the problem you describe with the decline of language and such- well, there’s no surprise there. “Thinking” and “language” today are reduced to “memes”. Take any subject, no matter how complex, throw in a picture with two lines of text underneath it (which takes the subject in question into derision, usually) and you know everything you must about it.

          • A.D. says:

            Yes the memes perfectly illustrate the post-ironic culture. Derision is exactly what passes for intelligence now. I remember when my pldest son actually stated this to me – he could see it happening in front of his eyes when memes started.

            I homeschooled my children through the nineties and noughties and even though computers were already prevalent, we did not have TV and the home computer was a dreadful hulking ancient monstrosity that took hours to turn on, so really, they had minimal computer, no phones etc. We had to devise ways to learn alphabet, writing and language, including second languages, between ourselves. I am really glad now that they had the opportunity to experience that life – it is hardly possible to do this anymore. They also say that it was good for them, and even say that their vocabularies are much wider than their peers.

            I did also pause to think about the writing aspect Branko mentioned – how that might contribute. Typing is a vastly different skill than forming actual physical written letters, the parts of the brain stimulated must be different. Forming symbols, aka letters, words, with the hands moving so precisely as humans have done for aeons has to modify the mental processes, even the physical matter, in some way. Perhaps? Maybe another fanciful idea.

            I have replied so many times because this is a subject that both fascinates and troubles me, and has done so for a long time!

          • Mihai says:

            Actually I have heard of studies done that proved exactly what you say: that handwriting and reading handwritten words even have a far more complex and enriching effect on the brain than typing and screens can ever hope to have.
            Old-fashion studying- with books, pen, paper gets incomparably greater results than kindles and laptops.

            Beyond the possible neurological explanations which should be taken into account, I also speculate about a higher reason for these things: namely, physical books, with paper and ink, have a far greater degree of reality in them then do the virtual means. The images on computer screens are basically mirages which change or disappear completely when turned off. Having contact with something actual, something real leaves a greater mark on one’s being- and hence on one’s mind- then do visual mirages. You cannot commune with a mirage, only with an actual existing thing.

            Besides, writing is, as you say, a creative activity (in the relative sense, I must add, so as to not attract any angry looks from Branko 🙂 )- the drawing of symbols through external tools- like pen and paper- symbols through which thoughts and ideas are brought out of the fluid environment of the mind into the solid, corporeal world and which convey meanings that transcend them.

          • Malić says:

            If it was at all feasible to challenge one’s laziness to such a degree, I was contemplating writing texts I consider important by hand and then type them into computer. I am haunted by Bulgakov’s remark that “manuscripts don’t burn”.

          • Ante says:

            Introduction of latest technology has much to answer for when it comes to education. I have heard a second hand account, but from a source I totally trust, that kids in elementary school have problems with other very basic skills, not just in writing and language. Actual example in question was drawing orthogonal lines. They have some sort of animated gif or something such that demonstrates what orthogonal lines are. They see it and recognize it and can supposedly demonstrate that they “learned” what it is. But when it comes to actually drawing it themselves, they don’t know what to do. Because seeing an animated gif has very little to do with taking those 2 plastic triangles into your hands and actually doing the damn thing.

            Also, younger teachers seem to be oblivious to this. From the same source I’ve heard of a conversation between one young and one older teacher (I guess it was Croatian, maybe some other language, not sure), where the young teacher was exhilarated about how kids are learning well, while older one gave an annoyed answer, something along the lines of “Learning well?! They can’t even hold their pencils right!”

            Writing by hand certainly has some effect and makes us use certain abilities that are otherwise left to dwindle away. It seems fairly obvious even from a purely materialist perspective. I’m not so sure about paper and ink when it comes to reading, I’ve found that staring at a screen of my phone or pc doesn’t seem much different than staring at a book. At least if there is a difference it isn’t as stark.

            On the other hand I’d say there are other issues that are at hand as well. The egalitarian trend that seems to be all-pervasive, which tends to make gifted kids slow down and adapt to the ones on the low end must have some kind of an effect. I don’t know how prevalent it is though. I have heard however stories of spite, defiance, even outright violence toward teachers coming from kids prone to such behavior, with teachers and schools being incapable of reacting in any way that would actually end such a situation due to threat of dishonest media exposure and similar pressures, institutional and otherwise. This must have an awful effect on everyone, starting from fence sitters who might get emboldened to start acting like that as well, to the ones on the other extreme who actually genuinely want to learn something.

            When I was in high school in late 90ies and early 00s things weren’t this way, but looking back I can see how the stage was already set. In any event, the only reason why my generation wasn’t as bad was that we still had an impression it would have been wrong to tell a teacher to f-off or worse. But those that would engage in such behavior couldn’t really be dealt with appropriately even then. Authority of teachers was already pretty much gone and order was only held up by inertia from earlier decades. I suppose it deteriorated further since those days. And without authority there simply can’t be an education at all.

          • Mihai says:

            Branko, my first 2 articles written for this site were done in this manner.
            However, it is just discouraging- after spending I don’t know how many hours to elaborate the article, you have to type it, usually from a piece of paper which is anything but intelligible- full of corrections, arrows, asterixes and so on…

  3. A.D. says:

    I’m inspired to go back to my notebooks and pens; I used to have a daily practice of writing, by hand, but left it off some years ago. The discussion has triggered my desire to return to old-fashioned writing.

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