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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


BOSHOFF, Hercules. On the limits of language. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.4, pp.706-714. ISSN 2224-7912.

A language that seeks to grow and branch out needs to keep itself rooted. The possibilities of a language are co-determined by external and internal factors. The balance between the grammatical as such, or the grammatica tecne, as it was called in earlier times, alongside the local dialect, or the vulgare eloquentia, as Dante called it, will be explored. It will be argued that rootedness and branching are concurrent forces pulling in different directions, both contributing to the growth of the language in substantial measure. On the one hand entrance into what is historical is informed by current topics; and, on the other, what is current forms part of an unfolding of history. The relation between language studies and politics once again has become an issue featuring in the discussions regarding the indigenous status of Afrikaans. If a language were to be considered as authentic solely on account of its indigenous status, it would be difficult to forward an argument for English being authentically "English", given the fact that most of the vocabulary is borrowed from Frisian and Latin, and very little from Celtic. The real issue to be considered rather, is what purposes the speakers have in mind for the language, mere day-to-day communication or a distinguished literature? Should the latter be the preferred option, it follows that one will have to incorporate the development of the history of writing and study the fruits that were borne along with it. Dutch underwent similar developments during the so-called "Golden Age", developments from which Afrikaans has also been able to benefit to a certain extent. Grammar is not merely an objective science that examines and describes languages from a distance, but it is also historically embedded. Learning not only the rules and the scientific side of grammar, but also studying some of the languages that innovated these developments benefits any language, it binds a language into history. In his Poetics, Aristotle compares the different kinds ofwords to parts of a body but goes beyond that to speak about the physiological effects that certain kinds of metre have. We form sounds as much as sounds form us. Poetry specifically has two purposes for Aristotle - on the one hand it exposes the reader or listener to me tapeinen or the unusual, which comprises of strange words or techniques; while on the other, it familiarises the reader with safe, the norms and words of the language with which people are familiar. Without a good balance between these dimensions, poetry will remain either decadent or too mundane. Ifwe accept the unfamiliar to be a key for unlocking meaning in our own language, it again raises the question of the relation between languages. Han interprets Heidegger's notion of the bridge in the latter's essay Building, Dwelling, Thinking to mean that both the domain of exchange and the divine horizon on the other side of the bridge are to remain intact. In the case of Afrikaans, Van Wyk Louw can therefore speak of the fundamental indebtedness of Afrikaans to Dutch, as a source from which it cannot separate itself, especially in the context of education, while simultaneously having been formed in South Africa, thus being a bridge language between the continents. However great we judge our indebtedness to the development of grammar and the languages through which the history of literature was formed, we cannot neglect the particularity of our own language, and its ability to articulate what is universal in a unique manner, adding to the richness of the whole. In other words, the grammatical can become a hindrance in the development of language when a norm or a language dominates others to the extent that no more bridges can be extended. This was the case with Latin in the Middle Ages, and one might add with English today. Dante's essay Vulgare eloquentia laid the basis for a new appreciation for the local language and its ability to extend itself to universal heights, which Dante accomplished with his great Divine Comedy. Louw emphasises the importance of translation as a means whereby the speakers can extend their horizons to a world of meaning previously unknown to them. Translation does not necessarily mean that the speakers are motivated not to learn other languages, translation is itself not possible without building a bridge between languages, between the dwelling spaces of languages. The bridge allows one to dwell inside the limits of a world previously unknown. To manage this complex relation of the localities within a language, as well as the languages with one another, institutions are needed. But the mere existence of an institution does not automatically lead to literature. Humboldt calls for "spirited" writers, poets and philosophers to add new meaning and nuance to a language. This implies the study of these fields within institutions. If this does not happen, languages will to a great extent fall victim to the "hastiness" of the "newspaper men" as Louw calls the media. The hastiness relegates words to immediate meaning leaving little room for interpretation. The frequency of the word is therefore no yardstick for the health of a language. The limit represents the possibility of understanding, of making concrete, while at the same time acknowledging itself as limit, as being in need of extending itself beyond itself to another modus of expression.

Palavras-chave : rootedness; branching; grammatica tecne indigenous origin; dialect; language studies; language imperialism; politics; local dialect; translation; bridging; spiritedness; uniqueness.

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