Natural Language

Natural Language March 31, 2014

One of the most amusing contributions to the early modern debate on the origins of language came from Francis Mercury van Helmont. Like many others, he insisted that Noah spoke Hebrew, but his way of defending and explication that was uniquely his own.

In his 1667 Very Short delination of the Natural Hebrew Alphabet, van Helmont argued (in the summary of Jonathan Ree) “the Hebrew characters were originally pictorial; and they depicted not the objects or ideas they referred to, but the configuration of the vocal organs required for producing their sound. Thus they functioned rather like the tablature notations used for medieval instrumental music, which directly indicated how the musician was to touch the strings, frets, or keys” (I See A Voice, 76).

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