Sunday, June 29, 2014

The nature of language


Two competing views:

Language is a product of human beings:
"That which you need to know, and to which you must be alert, is Bereishit 2:20, 'And the man called names, etc.' We learn that language is established by convention, not nature."

(Rambam, Moreh haNevuchim 2:30)

Language is natural:
"'And all that Adam would call a living creature, was its name (Bereishit 2:19)' – This teaches that the creature was suited for that name. The name was appropriate for it, and taught of its nature."

(Rabbi Yehudah haLevi, Kuzari 4:25)

המצפה לישועה,


  1. To tweak the distinction... It seems to me that both are saying that language is invented by man. Anyone citing Bereishis 2:19 as a general statement about language would have to say as much. But they also then have to deal with וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם in Bereishis 11:7, where HQBH says that credit for today's languages rests in Him and His court.

    Where Rihal and Rambam disagree is whether a word in leshon haqodesh is inherently related to the thing being described (Rihal) or whether language, including the holy one, is "merely" a convention.

  2. R' Micha -
    To my mind, it's the difference between inventing something and being מכוין to something.