29 December 2011

Baha'i Writings on Language

Philosophers and lovers of wisdom alike have long reflected on the nature of language. This question is not just pointless intellectualizing but is fundamental to our very attitude to life and 'reality.' Is language just a 'will to power'? Does it have any coherence or is it just to be deconstructed as irrational? Can we communicate as much in silence as in sounds? Here's my own understanding and organization of some salient themes on language in the writings of Baha'u'llah:

The Baha'i Writings do not seem to take a direct stand on the correspondence/representation debates about language. (This is probably because such debates were not in the forefront of philosophical debate in the middle of the 19th century and certainly not in Islamic philosophical debates.) Rather, the Baha'i writings' concern with language centers on the nature of the 'Word of God,' which Baha'is' own speech is enjoined to reflect. Words are considered to be able to be the manifestation, emanation, and the power and meaning conveyance of the one who utters them. They manifest a person's feeling and ideas, yet also have the power to emanate those feelings and ideas to others. Baha'u'llah says, "Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible." Words do not simply represent that which they signify but can convey unseen spiritual forces as well. Baha'i writings express these spiritual forces in terms analogous to energy waves - streams, waves, billows, shining lights, effulgences, and animating forces. The words of God are represented as ontologically superior as well as cosmologically a priori to our everyday world and universe. One Word created the entirety of the universe, a Word which is "an ocean inexhaustible in riches, comprehending all things. Every thing which can be perceived is but an emanation therefrom." These writings affirm and elaborate upon the Qur'an's expression that all things were made by the command uttered by God "Be!" This word is formed by joining together the two letters kaf and nun into the imperative 'be!' - kun.