Experience with Language

Suppose, specifically, we were asked head-on: In what relation do you live to the language you speak? We should not be embarrassed for an answer. Indeed, we would at once discover a guideline and point of reference with which to lead the question into channels where it can safely be left.

…It therefore might be helpful to us to rid ourselves of the habit of always hearing only what we already understand. My proposal is addressed not only to all those who listen; it is addressed still more to [those]1 who try to speak of language, all the more when they do so with the sole intent to show possibilities that will allow us to become mindful of language and our relation to it.

But this, to undergo an experience with language, is something else again than to gather information about language. Such information – linguists and philologists of the mos diverse languages, psychologists and analytic philosophers supply it to us, and constantly increase the supply, ad infinitum. Of late, the scientific and philosophical investigations of languages is aiming ever more resolutely at the production of what is called “metalanguage.” Analytical philosophy, which is set on producing this super-language, is thus quite consistent when it considers itself metalinguistics. That sounds like metaphysics – no tonly sounds like it, it is metaphysics. Metalinguistics is the metaphysics of the thoroughgoing technicalization of all languages into the sole operative instrument of interplanetary information. Metalanguage and sputnik, metalinguists and rocketry are the Same.

However, we must not give grounds for the impression that we are here passing negative judgment on the scientific and philosophical investigation of language and of the languages. Such investigation has its own particular justification and retains its own importance. But scientific and philosophical information about language is one thing; an experience we undergo with language is another. Whether the attempt to bring us face to face with the possibility of such an experience will succeed, and if it does, how far that possible success will go for each one of us – that is not up to any of us.

What is left for us to do is to point out ways that bring us face to face with a possibility of undergoing an experience with language. Such ways have long existed. but they are seldom used in such a manner that the possible experience with language is itself given voice and put into language. In experiences which we undergo with language, language itself brings itself to language. One would think that this happens anyway, any time anyone speaks. Yet at whateve time and in whatever way we speak a language, language itself never has the floor. Any number of thins are given voice in speaking, above all what we are speaking about: a set of facts, an occurrence, a question, a matter of concern. Only because in everday speaking language does not bring itself to language but holds back, are we able simply to go ahead and speak a language, and so to deal with something and negotiate something by speaking.

But when does language speak itself as language? Curiously enough, when we cannot find the right word for something that concerns us, carries us away, oppresses or encourages us. Then we leave unspoken what we have in mind and, without rightly giving it thought, undergo moments in which language itself has distantly and fleeting touched us with its essential being.

But when the issue is to put into language something has never yet been spoken, then everything depends on whether language gives or witholds the appropriate word. Such is the case of the poet.




I de-gendered the pronouns in this passage.