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Eco: The Last Flowering of Philosophic Languages, 2

Giovan Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831

Giovanni Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831. Original held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a glorious eBook format posted by the Hathitrust and GoogleBooks among others. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

Vismes was not the only one to fall foul of this seemingly elementary snare. In 1831 Father Giovan Giuseppe Matraja published his Genigrafia italiana, which is nothing other than a polygraphy with five (Italian) dictionaries, one for nouns, one for verbs, one for adjectives, one for interjections and one for adverbs.

Since the five dictionaries account for only 15,000 terms, Matraja adds another dictionary that lists 6,000 synonyms. His method managed to be both haphazard and laborious: Matraja divided his terms into a series of numbered classes each containing 26 terms, each marked by an alphabetical letter: thus A1 means “hatchet,” A2 means “hermit,” A1000 means “encrustation,” A360 means “sand-digger,” etc.

Even though he had served as a missionary in South America, Matraja was still convinced that all cultures used the same system of notions. He believed that western languages (all of which he seemed to imagine were derived from Latin grammar) might perfectly well serve as the basis for another language, because, by a special natural gift, all peoples used the same syntactic structures when speaking–especially American Indians.

In fact, he included a genigraphical translation of the Lord’s Prayer comparing it with versions in twelve other languages including Nahuatl, Chilean and Quechua.

In 1827 François Soudre invented the Solresol (Langue musicale universelle, 1866). Soudre was also persuaded that the seven notes of the musical scale composed an alphabet comprehensible by all the peoples of the world, because the notes are written in the same way in all languages, and could be sung, recorded on staves, represented with special stenographic signs, figured in Arabic numerals, shown with the seven colors of the spectrum, and even indicated by the touch of the fingers of the right and left hands–thus making their representation comprehensible even for the deaf, dumb and blind.

It was not necessary that these notes be based on a logical classification of ideas. A single note expresses terms such as “yes” (musical si, or B) and “no” (do, or C); two notes express pronouns (“mine” = redo, “yours” = remi); three notes express everyday words like “time” (doredo) or “day” (doremi).

The initial notes refer to an encyclopedic class. Yet Soudre also wished to express opposites by musical inversion (a nice anticipation of a twelve-tone music procedure): thus, if the idea of “God” was naturally expressed by the major chord built upon the tonic, domisol, the idea of “Satan” would have to be the inversion, solmido.

Of course, this practice makes nonsense of the rule that the first letter in a three-note term refers to an encyclopedic class: the initial do refers to the physical and moral qualities, but the initial sol refers back to arts and sciences (and to associate them with Satan would be an excess of bigotry).

Besides the obvious difficulties inherent in any a priori language, the musical language of Soudre added the additional hurdle of requiring a good ear. We seem in some way to be returning to the seventeenth century myth of the language of birds, this time with less glossolalic grace, however, and a good deal more pure classificatory pedantry.

Couturat and Leau (1903: 37) awarded to the Solresol the encomium of being “the most artificial and most impracticable of all the a priori languages.” Even its number system is inaccessible; it is based on a hexadecimal system which, despite its claims to universality, still manages to indulge in the French quirk of eliminating names for 70 and 90.

Yet Soudre labored for forty-five years to perfect his system, obtaining in the meantime testimonials from the Institut de France, from musicians such as Cherubini, from Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Alexander von Humboldt; he was received by Napoleon III; he was awarded 10,000 francs at the Exposition Universale in Paris in 1855 and the gold medal at the London Exposition of 1862.

Let us neglect for the sake of brevity the Système de langue universelle of Grosselin (1836), the Langue universelle et analytique of Vidal (1844), the Cours complet de langue universelle by Letellier (1832-55), the Blaia Zimandal of Meriggi (1884), the projects of so distinguished a philosopher as Renouvier (1885), the Lingualumina of Dyer (1875), the Langue internationale étymologique of Reimann (1877), the Langue naturelle of Maldant (1887), the Spokil of Dr. Nicolas (1900), the Zahlensprache of Hilbe (1901), the Völkerverkehrsprache of Dietrich (1902), and the Perio of Talundberg (1904).

We will content ourselves with a brief account of the Projet d’une langue universelle of Sotos Ochando (1855). Its theoretical foundations are comparatively well reasoned and motivated; its logical structure could not be of a greater simplicity and regularity; the project proposes–as usual–to establish a perfect correspondence between the order of things signified and the alphabetical order of the words that express them.

Unfortunately–here we go again–the arrangement is empirical: A refers to inorganic material things, B to the liberal arts, C to the mechanical arts, D to political society, E to living bodies, and so forth.

With the addition of the morphological rules, one generates, to use the mineral kingdom as an example, the words Ababa for oxygen, Ababe for hydrogen, Ababi for nitrogen, Ababo for sulphur.

If we consider that the numbers from one to ten are siba, sibe, sibi, sibo, sibu, sibra, sibre, sibri, sibro, and sibru (pity the poor school children having to memorize their multiplication tables), it is evident that words with analogous meanings are all going to sound the same.

This makes the discrimination of concepts almost impossible, even if the formation of names follows a criterion similar to that of chemistry, and the letters stand for the components of the concept.

The author may claim that, using his system, anyone can learn over six million words in less than an hour; yet as Couturat and Leau remark (1903: 69), learning a system that can generate six million words in an hour is not the same as memorizing, recognizing, six million meanings.

The list could be continued, yet towards the end of the nineteenth century, news of the invention of a priori languages was becoming less a matter for scientific communications and more one for reports on eccentric fellows–from Les fous littéraires by Brunet in 1880 to Les fous littéraires by Blavier in 1982.

By now, the invention of a priori languages, other than being the special province of visionaries of all lands, had become a game (see Bausani 1970 and his language Markuska) or a literary exercise (see Yaguello 1984 and Giovannoli 1990 for the imaginary languages of science fiction).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 305-8.

Eco: New Prospects for the Monogenetic Hypothesis

kircher_021

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece to Magnes sive De Arte Magnetica, 1641 and 1643 editions, digitized by the University of Lausanne and Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“Doubting the possibility of obtaining scientific agreement upon an argument whose evidence had been lost in the mists of time, about which nothing but conjectures might be offered, the Société de Linguistique of Paris 1866 decided that it would no longer accept scientific communications on the subject of either universal languages or origins of language.

In our century that millenary debate took the form of research on the universals of language, now based on the comparative analysis of existing languages. Such a study has nothing to do with more or less fantastic historic reconstructions and does not subscribe to the utopian ideal of a perfect language (cf. Greenberg 1963; Steiner 1975: I, 3).

However, comparatively recent times have witnessed a renewal of the search for the origins of language (cf., for example, Fano 1962; Hewes 1975, 1979).

Even the search for the mother tongue has been revived in this century by Vitalij Ševorškin (1989), who has re-proposed the Nostratic hypothesis, originally advanced in Soviet scientific circles in the 1960s, and associated with the names of Vladislav Il’ič-Svitych and Aron Dolgoposkiji.

According to this hypothesis, there was a proto-Indo-European, one of the six branches of a larger linguistic family deriving from Nostratics–which in its turn derives from a proto-Nostratics, spoken approximately ten thousand years ago. The supporters of this theory have compiled a dictionary of several hundred terms of this language.

But the proto-Nostratics itself would derive from a more ancient mother tongue, spoken perhaps fifty thousand years ago in Africa, spreading from there throughout the entire globe (cf. Wright 1991).

According to the so-called “Eve’s hypothesis,” one can thus imagine a human couple, born in Africa, who later emigrated to the Near East, and whose descendants spread throughout Eurasia, and possibly America and Australia as well (Ivanov 1992:2). To reconstruct an original language for which we lack any written evidence, we must proceed like

“molecular biologists in their quest to understand the evolution of life. The biochemist identifies molecular elements that perform similar functions in widely divergent species, to infer the characteristics of the primordial cell from which they are presumed to have descended.

So does the linguist seek correspondences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and vocalization among known languages in order to reconstruct their immediate forebears and ultimately the original tongue. (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1990: 110).”

Cavalli-Sforza’s work on genetics (cf., for example, 1988, 1991) tends to show that linguistic affinities reflect genetic affinities. This supports the hypothesis of a single origin of all languages, reflecting the common evolutionary origin of all human groups.

Just as humanity evolved only once on the face of the earth, and later diffused across the whole planet, so language. Biological monogenesis and linguistic monogenesis thus go hand in hand and may be inferentially reconstructed on the basis of mutually comparable data.

In a different conceptual framework, the assumption that both the genetic and the immunological codes can, in some sense, be analyzed semiotically seems to constitute the new scientific attempt to find a language which could be defined as the primitive one par excellence (though not in historical but rather in biological terms).

This language would nest in the roots of evolution itself, of phylogenesis as of onto-genesis, stretching back to before the dawn of humanity (cf. Prodi 1977).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 115-6.

Selz: Connects the Apkallu with the Fallen Angels

“The correspondance between Enmeduranki, for a long time considered to be the Mesopotamian Enoch, with an apkallū named Utu-abzu, proved highly informative.

(See W.G. Lambert, “Enmeduranki and Related Matters,” JCS 21 (1967): pp. 126-38; idem, “New Fragment.”)

Paul Gustave Doré (1832-1883 CE), Michael Casts out all of the Fallen Angels, Illustration for Milton's Paradise Lost, 1866.<br />  This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:<br />  This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less. <br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Doré

Paul Gustave Doré (1832-1883 CE), Michael Casts out all of the Fallen Angels, Illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1866.
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Doré

In 1974 Borger observed in an important article, that in tablet III of the omen series Bīt Mēseri (“House of Confinement”) a list of these apkallū is provided and that the apkallū Utu-abzu who is, as we have just seen, associated with the primeval ruler Enmeduranki is explicitly said to have “ascended to heaven.”

(“Beschwörung. U-anna, der die Pläne des Himmels und der Erde vollendet, U-anne-dugga, dem ein umfassender Verstand verliehen ist, Enmedugga, dem ein gutes Geschick beschieden ist, Enmegalamma, der in einem Hause geboren wurde, Enmebu-lugga, der auf einem Weidegrund aufwuchs, An-Enlilda, der Beschwörer der Stadt Eridu,” Utuabzu, der zum Himmel emporgestiegen ist, . . . ” (Borger, “Beschwörungsserie,” p. 192).

(“Summons. U -anna, completes the plans of the heavens and the earth, U-anne-dugga, accompanied by a comprehensive understanding, Enmedugga, who is granted good skill, Enmegalamma, who was born in a house, Enmebu-lugga, who grew up on a pasture, An-Enlilda, the Summoner of the city Eridu.”)

In Borger’s words we can therefore say: “The mythological conception of Enoch’s ascension to heaven derives . . . from Enmeduranki’s counselor, the seventh antediluvian sage, named Utuabzu!”

(Borger, “Incantation Series,” p. 232.)

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.  The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

The iconographic evidence for these apkallū is manifold and best known from various Assyrian reliefs. We usually refer to them as genii. Bīt Mēseri, however, describes them as purādu-fishes, and this coincides with iconographic research undertaken by Wiggerman some twenty years ago in his study on Mesopotamian Protective Spirits.

(F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (Cuneiform Monographs 1; Groningen: Styx, 1992).

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroch bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.  The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.  The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroch apkallū remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroch bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.
The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.
The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroch apkallū remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

Wiggerman could distinguish between basically three types of genii, attested in the Mesopotamian art: First, there is a human faced genius, second, a bird apkallū who occur only in “Assyrian” contexts, and third, a fish apkallū, the original Babylonian apkallū, as described by Berossos; according to the texts the last two groups of apkallū are coming in groups of seven.

The first type, the human faced genius must be kept apart because these genii are depicted wearing a horned crown which explicitly marks them as divine.

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings.

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with what appear to be poppy bulbs in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings, a further indicator of divinity or semi-divinity.

I cannot dwell here on the complicated issue of a possible intertextual relation between these apkallū and the “fallen angels” of the biblical tradition. Instead I will add some remarks concerning the following feature of the Enochic tradition, especially the Book of Giants.

1 Enoch 6:1-3 gives account of the siring of giants; men had multiplied and the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw their beautiful daughters and desired them.

Therefore, “they said to one another, ‘Come, let us choose for ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget children for ourselves.’

And Shemihazah, their chief, said to them, ‘I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin.’”

1 Enoch 7:1-2 describes that the women conceived from them and “bore to them great giants. And the giants begot Nephilim, and to the Nephilim were born . . . And they were growing in accordance with their greatness.”

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 794-5.

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