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Eco: Francis Lodwick

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Francis Lodwick (1619-1694), eight verses from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John in Francis Lodwick’s common writing, next to the numerical key composed for it. A Common Writing, London, 1647. Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford. 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.  

Lodwick wrote before either Dalgarno or Wilkins, both of whom had thus the opportunity to know his work. Salmon (1972: 3) defines him as the author of the first attempt to construct a language in universal character. His first work, A Common Writing, appeared in 1647; The Groundwork or Foundation Laid (or So Intended) for the Framing of a New Perfect Language and a Universal Common Writing dates from 1652.

Lodwick was not a learned man–no more than a merchant, as he humbly confessed. Though, in his Ars signorum, Dalgarno praised Lodwick for his endeavors, he was unable to hold back the supercilious observation that he did not possess the force adequate so such an undertaking, being a man of the arts, born outside of the Schools (p. 79).

In his writings, Lodwick advanced a number of proposals, some more fruitful than others, on how to delineate a language that would both facilitate commercial exchange and permit the easy acquisition of English.

His ideas, moreover, changed over time, and he never managed to design a complete system. None the less, certain of what appears in the most original of his works (A Common Writing, hardly thirty pages long) reveals him as striking off in a direction very different from other authors of his time, making him a precursor of certain trends of contemporary lexical semantics.

In theory, Lodwick’s project envisioned the creation of a series of three numbered indexes; the purpose of these was to refer English words to the character and these to its words. What distinguished Lodwick’s conception from those of the polygraphers, however, was the nature of its lexicon.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, Figure 13.1, p. 261

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, Figure 13.1, p. 261.

Lodwick’s idea was to reduce the number of terms contained in the indexes by deriving as many of them as possible from a finite number of primitives which express actions. Figure 13.1 shows how Lodwick chooses a conventional character (a sort of Greek delta) to express the action of drinking; then, by adding to this radix different grammatical marks, makes the different composite characters express ideas such as the actor (he who drinks), the act, the object (that which is drunk), the inclination (the drunkard), the abstraction, and the place (the drinking house, or tavern).

From the time of Aristotle up until Lodwick’s own day, names of substances had invariably been the basis upon which a structure of classification had been erected. Lodwick’s original contribution, however, was to commence not with substantives but with verbs, or schemes of actions, and to populate these schemes with roles–what we would now call actants–such as agent, object, place and so on.

Lodwick designed his characters to be easily recognized and remembered: as we have seen, to drink was specified by a sort of Greek delta, while to love was a sort of L. The punctuation and added notes are vaguely reminiscent of Hebrew. Finally, as Salmon suggests, Lodwick probably took from contemporary algebra the idea of substituting letters for numbers.

In order to set up his finite packet of radicals Lodwick devised a philosophical grammar in which even grammatical categories expressed semantic relations. Derivatives and morphemes could thus become, at the same time, criteria of efficiency to reduce each grammatical category further to a component of action.

By such means the number of characters became far small than the words of a natural language found in a dictionary, and Lodwick endeavored to reduce this list further by deriving his adjectives and adverbs from the verbs.

From the character to love, for example, he derived not only the object of the action (the beloved) but also its mode (lovingly); by adding a declarative sign to the character to cleanse, he asserted that the action of cleansing has been performed upon the object–thereby deriving the adjective clean.

Lodwick realized, however, that many adverbs, prepositions, interjections and conjunctions were simply not amenable to this sort of derivation; he proposed representing these as notes appended to the radicals. He decided to write proper names in natural languages.

He was embarrassed by the problem of “natural kinds” (let us say, names of substances like cat, dog, tree), and resigned himself to the fact that, here, he would have to resort to a separate list. But since this decision put the original idea of a severely limited lexicon in jeopardy, he tried to reduce the list of natural kinds as much as possible, deciding that terms like hand, foot or land could be derived from actions like to handle, to foot or to land.

In other cases, he resorted to etymology, deriving, for instance, king from the archaic radical to kan, claiming that it meant both to know and to have power to act. He pointed out that Latin rex was related to the verb regere, and suggested that both the English king and the German emperor might be designated by a simple K followed by the name of the country.

Where he was not able to find appropriate verbal roots, he tried at least to reduce as many different sounds as possible to a single root. He thus reduced the names for the young of animals–child, calfe, puppy, chikin–to a single root.

Moreover, Lodwick thought that the reduction of many lexical items to a unique radical could also be performed by using analogies (seeing as analogous to knowing), synonymy (to lament as a synonym of to bemoane), opposition (to curse as the opposite of to bless), or similarities in substance (to moisten, to wet, to wash and even to baptize are all reduced to moisture).

All these derivations were to be signaled by special signs. Wilkins had had a similar idea when proposing the method of transcendental particles, but it seems that Lodwick’s procedure was less ambiguous.

Lodwick barely sketched out his project; his system of notation was cumbersome; nevertheless (with a bare list of sixteen radicals–to be, to make, to speake, to drinke, to love, to cleanse, to come, to begin, to create, to light, to shine, to live, to darken, to comprehend, to send and to name), he managed to transcribe the opening of the gospel of St. John (“In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . .”).

Beginning was derived of course from to begin, God from to be, Word from to speake, and so on (the idea of all things is derived from to create).

Just as the polygraphers had taken Latin grammar as a universal model, so Lodwick did the same for English–though his English grammatical categories still reflected the Latin model. Nevertheless he succeeded in avoiding certain limits of the Aristotelian classification of substances, because no previous tradition obliged him to order an array of actions according to the rigid hierarchical schema requested by a representation of genera and species.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 260-3.

The Naassene Fragment, on Attis

S. 4 Moreover, also, the Phrygians say that the Father of wholes 5 is Amygdalos 6

J. —no [ordinary] tree 7 (H. he says); but that He is that Amygdalos the Pre-existing, who having in Himself the Perfect Fruit, as it were, throbbing 8 and moving in [His] Depth, He tore asunder 9 His Womb, and gave birth to His own Son 10

C. —the Invisible, Unnameable, and Ineffable [One] of whom we tell. 1

S. For “amyxai” 2 is, as it were, “to break” and “cut open”; just as (H. he says) in the case of inflamed bodies and those which have some internal tumour, when physicians lance them, they speak of “amychas.” 3

Thus (H. he says) the Phrygians call him Amygdalos.

C. From whom proceeded and was born the Invisible—

“Through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made.” 4

(30) S. The Phrygians also say that that which is generated from Him is Syriktēs. 5

J. For that which is generated is Spirit in harmony. 6

C. For “God (H. he says) is Spirit.” 7

Wherefore He says:

“Neither in this mountain do the true worshippers worship, nor in Jerusalem, but in Spirit.” 8

For the worship of the perfect [men] (H. he says) is spiritual, not fleshly.

J. And “Spirit” (H. he says) is there where both Father and Son are named, generated there from Him 1 and the Father.

S. He 2 (H. he says) is the Many-named, Myriad-eyed, Incomprehensible, whom every nature desires, some one way, some another.

J. This (H. he says) is the Word 3 of God, which is:

“The Word of Announcement of the Great Power. Wherefore It shall be sealed, and hidden, and concealed, stored in the Habitation, where the Root of the Universals has its foundation—

“Of Æons, Powers, Intelligences, Gods, Angels, Spirits Delegate, Existing Non-existences, Generated Ingenerables, Comprehensible Incomprehensibles,—Years, Months, Days, Hours,—of [the] Boundless Point, from which the most minute begins to increase by parts. 4

“For (H. he says) the Point which is nothing and is composed of nothing, though partless, will become by means of its own Thought a Greatness 1 beyond our own comprehension.”

C. This [Point] (H. he says) is the Kingdom of the Heavens, the “grain of mustard seed,” 2 the partless point, the first existing for the body; which no one (H. he says) knows save the spiritual [men] alone.

J. This (H. he says) is what is said:

“They are neither words nor languages whereby their 3 sounds are heard.” 4

H. These things, [then,] which are said and done by all men, they thus interpret off-hand to their peculiar theory (νοῦν), pretending that they are all done with a spiritual meaning.

For which cause also they 5 say that the performers in the theatres—they, too, neither say nor do anything without Design. 6

S. For example (H. he says), when the people assemble in the theatres, and a man comes on the stage, clad in a robe different from all others, with lute 7 in hand on which he plays, and thus chants the Great Mysteries, not knowing what he says: 8

“Whether blest Child of Kronos, or of Zeus, or of Great Rhea,—

Hail, Attis, thou mournful song 9 of Rhea!

Assyrians call thee thrice-longed-for Adōnis;

all Egypt [calls thee] Osiris;

the Wisdom of Hellas [names thee] Mēn’s Heavenly Horn;

the Samothracians [call thee] august Adama;

the Hæmonians, Korybas;

the Phrygians [name thee] Papa sometimes,

at times again Dead, or God, 1 or Unfruitful,

or Aipolos, or Green Reaped 2 Wheat-ear,

or the Fruitful that Amygdalos brought forth,

Man, Piper . . . Attis!”

H. He [S.] says that this is the Attis of many forms of whom they [NN., in H.’s opinion] sing as follows:

S. “Of Attis will I sing, of Rhea’s [Belovèd];—

not with the boomings 3 of bells,

nor with the deep-toned 4 pipe of Idæan Kurētes;

but I will blend my song with Phoebus’ music of the lyre.

Evoï! Evan!—for [thou art] Pan, [thou] Bacchus [art], and Shepherd of bright stars!”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 182-6.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

Naassene Fragment Continued

” … (4) S. Now every nature (H. he says) yearns after Soul—one in one way and another in another.

For Soul is cause of all in Genesis. All things that are sustained and grow (H. he says) need Soul. Indeed, no sustenance (H. he says) or growth is possible without the presence of Soul.

Nay, even stones (H. he says) are ensouled; 1 for they have the power of increase [or growth]; and growth could not take place without sustenance; for it is by addition that things which increase grow; and addition is the sustenance of that which is sustained. 2

(5) Now the Assyrians call this [Mystery] Adōnis (or Endymiōn). And whenever it is called Adōnis (H. he says), it is Aphroditē who is in love with and desires Soul so-called.

H. And Aphroditē is Genesis according to them. 3

But when Persephonē (that is, Korē) is in love with Adōnis, Soul becomes subject to Death, separated from Aphrodite (that is, from Genesis).

But if Selēnē is impassioned of Endymiōn, and is in love with [formal] beauty, 1 it is the Nature of the higher [spaces 2] (H. he says) which desires Soul.

(6 3) But if (H. he says) the Mother of the Gods emasculate Attis—she, too, regarding him as the object of her love—it is the Blessed Nature Above of the supercosmic and æonian [spaces] which calls back the masculine power of Soul to herself. 4

H. For Man, he says, is male-female. According, then, to this theory of theirs, the intercourse between man and woman is exhibited as most mischievous, and is forbidden according to their teaching.

J. For Attis (H. he says) is emasculated—that is, [Soul is separated] from the earthy parts of the creation [tending] downwards, and ascends in quest of the Æonian Essence Above—

C. —where (H. he says) is “neither male nor female,” 1 but a new creature, a new man, who is male-female.

H. What they call “Above” I will explain when I come to the proper place. And they say that this theory is supported not simply by [the myth] of Rhea, but also, to put it briefly, by universal creation.

Nay, they make out that this is [even] what was said by the Word (Logos): 2

C. “For the invisible 3 things of Him [God]—namely, His Eternal 4 Power and Godhead—are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by His things that are made; so that they [men] are without excuse. Because that, though knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, nor did they give [Him] thanks, but their non-understanding heart was made foolish. 5

“Professing themselves to be wise, they convicted themselves of folly, and changed the Glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things. 1 . . . 2

“Wherefore also God gave them up to passions of dishonour; for both their females did change their natural use to that which is against nature—

H. And what the natural use is, according to them, we will say later on.

C. —“and likewise also their males, leaving the natural use of the female, burned in their lust for one another, males with males working unseemliness 3

H. And “unseemliness,” according to them, is the First and Blessed Formless Essence, the Cause of all forms for things enformed. 4

C. —“and receiving in themselves the recompense of their Error which was meet.”

H. For in these words which Paul spake is contained, they say, the whole of their hidden and ineffable Mystery of the Blessed Bliss.

For what is promised by the [rite of the] bath 5 is nothing else, according to them, than the introduction into Unfading Bliss of him who, according to them, is washed with Living Water, and anointed with the Chrism that no tongue can declare.” 6

 G.R.S.Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 151-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

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