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Chapter 25 - On language and words

from PARERGA AND PARALIPOMENA, VOLUME 2

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2015

Adrian Del Caro
Affiliation:
University of Tennessee
Christopher Janaway
Affiliation:
University of Southampton
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Summary

§298

The animal voice serves only the expression of the will in its stimulations and movements, but the human also serves that of cognition. This is connected with the fact that the former almost always make an unpleasant impression on us, with the exception of a few bird voices.

During the origin of human speech it was quite certainly interjections that were the first to express not concepts but, like the sounds of animals, feelings – movements of the will. Their different forms arrived at once, and from their diversity arose the transition to substantives, verbs, personal pronouns and so on.

The words of humans are the most lasting material. If a poet has embodied his most fleeting sensation in words properly suited to it, then it lives in them for thousands of years and stirs anew in every receptive reader.

§298a

It is well known that especially in matters of grammar the older languages are the more perfect, and they become progressively worse – from lofty Sanskrit on down to English jargon, this cloak of thoughts sewn together from rags of heterogeneous fabrics. This gradual degradation is a weighty argument against the favourite theories of our optimists who smile so solemnly, theories about the ‘constant progress of mankind for the better’, with which they would like to distort the deplorable history of the bipedal race; but moreover it is a problem that is difficult to solve. For we simply cannot help thinking of the human race as it first emerged somehow from the womb of nature as being in a state of complete and childlike ignorance, and consequently as crude and clumsy; how is such a race supposed to have thought up these highly artificial language structures, these complicated and manifold grammatical forms, even if we assume that the vocabulary was only accumulated gradually? On the other hand at the same time we see everywhere how the descendants stick with the language of their parents and only gradually undertake small changes in it. But experience does not teach that the languages perfect themselves grammatically in the succession of generations, but rather, as I have said, precisely the opposite, namely they become increasingly simpler and worse.

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Schopenhauer: Parerga and Paralipomena
Short Philosophical Essays
, pp. 506 - 519
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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