~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی ~

Chapter Twenty

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XX. The Emergence of a Nation’s Letters and Utterances

114. It is evident that the vulgar and the multitude are earlier in time than the elect. Commonly shared cognitions that are the unexamined opinions held by all are earlier in time than the practical arts and than the cognitions that are particularly characteristic of each of these arts: taken together, these comprise the ordinary cognitions. The vulgar and the multitude are the first to emerge and come into being.

They live in a definite abode and country. With respect to their bodies, they are constituted and created according to definite forms. Their bodies have definite qualities and temperaments. Their souls are disposed and directed toward cognitions, concepts, and imaginations in measures made definite according to quantity and quality. So these will be easier for them [to acquire] than others. And their souls are affected in ways and measures made definite according to quantity and quality. So these will be easier for them [to acquire than others]. And their limbs are disposed so to move more easily in particular directions and ways than in other directions and ways.

115. When a human being is left to himself from when he is first constituted, he embarks on and moves toward the thing to which, by his constitution, it is easier for him to move and according to the kind of movement that is easier for him. His soul will embark upon knowing, thinking about, forming a concept of, imagining, or intellecting everything for which, by his constitution, he has a more intense and greater disposition. For this is what is easiest for him. And he will move his body and his limbs in the direction and according to the kind of movement for which, by his constitution, he has a more intense, greater, and more perfect disposition. For this is also what is easiest for him. When he first does one of these things, he does it by means of a faculty that is in him by his constitution and by a natural state, not by an earlier habituation [that he had] before that and not through art. When he repeats an action of the same kind many times, a habitual state emerges in him [that is] either moral or technical.

116. If he needs to make others aware of what is in his mind or of his inner intention, he will first use a gesture to signify what he has in mind and what he wants from whomever he is seeking to make understand [something], so long as the one to whom he seeks to pass on that understanding is situated so as to see his gesture. After that he will use speech-sound. The first speech-sound to be used is direct address, for by this he alerts the one to whom he seeks to pass on understanding that he is the one intended for that understanding rather than someone else. That occurs when he restricts himself to signifying what he has in mind by means of a gesture about sense perceptions that are in his mind.

Then after that he uses different speech-sounds by each of which he signifies one of the things he signified by gesturing to it or to sense perceptions of it, so that he establishes for each definite thing gestured to some definite speech-sound and does not use that speech-sound for anything else. This will be the case in every instance.

117. It is apparent that these speech-sounds result from rapping the inhaled air against one or more parts of the pharynx or against one of the interior parts of the mouth and the nose or the lips; for these are the organs that are rapped with the inhaled air. That which raps is, in the first place, the force that makes the inhaled air flow from the lung and the cavity of the throat by stages to the extremity of the throat that is next to the mouth and the nose and to [the space] between the lips. Then the tongue catches that air-stream and pushes it against one or the other interior part of the mouth, against one or the other part at the base of the teeth and against the teeth. It raps that particular part with the air-stream; and from each part against which the tongue pushes the air-stream and on which it raps with it, a definite speech-sound emerges. The tongue carries it by means of the air-stream from one part to another inside the mouth, and many successive and definite speech-sounds emerge.

118. It is apparent that the tongue at first moves only to that part to which it is easier for it to move. The tongues of those who live in the same place and whose organs are approximate in character are so constituted as to have precisely the same kinds of movements to certain parts inside the mouth, and these are easier for them than movements to other parts. And if the character and temperaments of the organs of people who live in another place or country are different from the character of the organs of the former, they are so constituted that it is easier for them to move their tongues to other parts inside the mouth than to move them to the parts to which the people who live in the other place move their tongues. Hence the speech-sounds that they set down as signs for signifying to one another what they have in mind will differ from the sense perceptions they would formerly gesture to. This is the first reason for the languages of nations being different. For these first speechsounds are the alphabetical

119. Given that these letters will be limited in number when first set down as signs, they are not sufficient to signify everything [the speakers] happen to have in mind. Thus they will be compelled to combine them with one another by having one letter follow the other, at which point utterances consisting of two [or more] letters each will be formed. They will use these also as signs of other things. Hence the first letters and utterances will be signs of sense perceptions to which one can gesture or of intelligibles that rest upon sense perceptions to which one can gesture - for to every universal intelligible belong individuals that are not the individuals belonging to another intelligible. Many different [simple and complex] speech-sounds will emerge, some of which are signs of sense perceptions - these are appellations of concretes - while others signify universal intelligibles that have perceptible individuals belonging to them. One begins to understand that this or that speech-sound signifies this or that intelligible when precisely the same speech-sound recurs with respect to a particular individual and with respect to everything that is similar to that intelligible, and then another speech-sound is used with respect to another individual subordinate to another particular intelligible and with respect to everything else that has something similar to that [other] intelligible.

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[Footnote 8: Namely, the consonants and the short or long vowels following them that make up the different languages.] Back to text