Origins of Speech

Origins of Speech November 7, 2018

Where does my speech come from? Klaus Hemmerle (Thesen zu einer trinitarischen Ontologie) argues that the answer is more complex that we might think.

On the one hand, the word originates from the speaker: “I speak the word, it’s up to me.” There’s no gap between me as speaker and the words i speak. I design the speech and direct it to the addressee. In short, “the whole of speech is rooted . . . in me.”

Yet even though I am the root of my speech, “my word is rooted as mine in other origins.” While I am the origin of my word, it’s also true “the language is the origin of my word.” The language I use has been prepared long before me, and my word enters as part of a stream of communication. Language speaks again in my personal speech.

Hemmerle uses the image of a grain of sand: What I say is “one grain of sand on the mountains of the language that is constantly growing, constantly shifting. Even if I speak originally, if I speak, so to speak, new language, my speech is a continuation, my performance only a grain of sand on the mountain of spoken language.”

But speech isn’t merely double-sourced. It has a third root,”you, to whom I speak, you, the addressee, are the origin of my word.” My speaking depends on your ability to hear and understand. Speech arises from the encounter that speakers have with one another.

Thus, “My word has at least the three origins: me, the language, you. . . . All three origins arise in different ways,” so that in each root, in each origin, the process is similar but different.

Hemmerle offers this as an example of a new, Trinitarian ontology, an ontology where the reality of multiple originality (Mehrursprünglichkeit) is acknowledged. The event of speech has a unity, but it’s not an undifferentiated unity; it has a unity from multiple places of origin, multiple poles.

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