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Oriental Ideas on the Origin of Language

Frits Staal
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 99, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1979), pp. 1-14
DOI: 10.2307/598944
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/598944
Page Count: 14
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Oriental Ideas on the Origin of Language
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Abstract

The legend of Genesis 2.19-20, which expresses a view about the development from names to nouns, and other ideas attributed to, read into and superimposed upon it, have influenced the course of Western speculation on language for several millennia. Thus arose one of the most misleading notions of mankind: the idea that language originates from naming. This idea occured not only in the Ancient Near East, but also in Greece and China. It implied that grammar is not part of language, but imposed upon it from the outside. The Chinese had also more sophisticated ideas, e.g., that language consists of sentences and propositions in addition to names. Language, moreover, is not only for naming but also for issuing orders. To the Indians, language is primarily for doing, not for naming. Accordingly, there is a close connexion with ritual, which suggests that the origin of language is in fact partly ritual.

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