Logos Multilingual Portal


The principles of language in the human consciousness


1. Literary language as the expression of national cultures



a) Semantics and psychology

The origin of nation states can be traced largely through the consolidation of linguistic families having homogeneous characteristics, along territorial and racial lines. The notions of "State" and "Nation" are not interchangeable: the one is a political entity, the other a cultural entity. A "culture" is defined linguistically as an assemblage of religious, linguistic, mythological, sociological and artistic codes coming together as parts of a "tradition", knowledge of which is absorbed by the consciousness of the individual in the process of growing up and being educated. Melanie Klein speaks of the "introjection of models", underlining the mimetic nature of this learning process. The "classics" are nothing other than the works regarded commonly as paradigms of these models, and therefore imitated more frequently.

Like temple ruins, artefacts and myths, words are no less "historical monuments" of national cultures, given that they preserve traces of vanished customs and traditions and ¾ more importantly ¾ through their shape and semantics they reveal the psychology with which every culture, in its own peculiar way, sees the outside world. In German, for example, words used to indicate abstract concepts end in -heit and -keit, the former relating to a collection of concrete objects, a "category" of the material, and the latter to something intangible, a "category" of the spiritual. In short, one of the ways in which thought is articulated: Ewigkeit, for example, meaning Eternity... The German language tends to conceive the world in categories a priori; it is in Kant that one sees the culmination of this, as it were, abstractive ascensional perspective, exploring and at the same time reflecting on its own nature. In German, therefore, greater attention is given to the position of the individual in space and time than to bodily qualities, to attributes perceived through the senses. Colours in German are perceived on the basis of their capacity to reflect light, and not of mutual contrast as in French. The German blau is a deep and transparent colour, not a nocturnal colour. Blue in English is associated with the soul, a colour that can serve as the very symbol of meditative and melancholic introspection. Indeed in English any abstract category is the fruit of perception, and traceable back to an original insight. If Kant is the "national" philosopher in the German language, then Hume is his counterpart in English. It is no accident that Poe, in The Raven, conveys the idea of eternity by conscious repetition of the word Nevermore. In French, every character is seen in relation to a different character. Everything is, so to speak, d'après or selon. Subjectivity of interpretation is the only perceptive category possible. When Proust begins his Recherche - "longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure", what interests him is the level of attraction and repulsion, semantically, between longtemps and de bonne heure: a paradoxical combination which in the dialectical and "dramatic" sense effectively precludes the possibility of slumber; and indeed the whole idea of the Recherche is inextricably linked with this insomnia.