Senzar The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 1

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Senzar The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 1

By John Algeo

Language, Languages, and Writing

To make sense out of the mysteries surrounding Senzar, we need to consider the meanings of the word language. Like most other words, it has more than one use. If we understand a word in one of its meanings, while it was intended by its producer in a different meaning, the result is confusion and misinterpretation.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary has six main, including fourteen subsidiary, meanings for the word language, two of which are of especial relevance here. The first meaning is

the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a considerable community and established by long usage.

Examples cited for this meaning are "French language," "Bantu group of languages," and "classical Latin is a dead language." Another meaning, however, is

a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.

Examples cited for this meaning are "finger language," "language of flowers," "language of painting," and "mathematics is a universally understood language." Restricting our consideration to these two meanings out of fourteen, we can construct a language "tree" to show some sorts of things that have been called "language".



. Human Languages
  . Speech
    . (1) Literal Language  (English, French, Bantu, Tamil, Latin)
    . (2) Figurative Language .......... (Allegory, Parable, Myth)
  . Writing
    . (3) Phonograms ........... (Alphabets, Syllabaries, Rebuses)
    . (4) Ideographs ............ (Hieroglyphs, Kanji, &, @, 5, +)
. Other Communication
    . (5) Pictographs ... (Drawings by Amerinds and Cave-dwellers)
    . (6) Other Artifacts ................ (Traffic lights, Music)
    . (7) Natural Objects ..................... (Gesture, Flowers)

Figure I: Types of "Language"

Language in the first sense, ordinary human languages, can be either speech or writing, the first being language proper and the latter a visual representation of spoken language.

Speech can be either (1) literal, so that by it we mean exactly what we say (and a spade is a spade); or it can be (2) figurative, symbolic, so that by it we mean something other than what we say (and a spade — as in the suit of cards — may then stand for a sword, which is a symbol for the intellect). Ordinary literal languages include our ordinary, everyday uses of English, French, Bantu, Tamil, ancient Latin, and a great many others. The figurative uses of language include allegories, like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; parables, like those in the gospels; and myths, like those about the ancient Greek gods.

Writing consists of either characters that represent the sounds of a language, called (3) phonograms, or characters that represent the words of the language, called (4) ideographs. Each phonogram may stand for an individual sound, as the letters of our own alphabet do, or it may stand for a whole syllable, as the characters in a Japanese form of writing called hiragana do. A rebus is a punning form of writing in which signs representing things are used to stand instead for the sound of the thing's name; for example, a picture of a bee followed by a picture of a leaf might stand for belief (bee-leaf).

An ideograph, on the other hand, stands for a whole word and represents its meaning rather than its sound. Egyptian hieroglyphics used ideographs, as does another form of Japanese writing called kanji, which is derived from the Chinese ideographs. We use a few ideographs in English: "&" and "@", the signs for 'and' and 'at'; numerals like "5"; and the signs of mathematical operations like "+" for 'plus.' Some of these signs are used in all European languages, though pronounced differently in each language; thus "5" is "five" in English, "funf" in German, "cinco" in Spanish, but always means the same thing.

Language in the second sense, a nonlinguistic sort of symbolic system, includes (5) pictographs — pictures that are intended to convey particular meanings, such as those drawn by the American Indians or the cavemen in Europe. It also includes the symbolic use of things we make — (6) artifacts such as red and green traffic lights, or music that conveys ideas and feelings. In addition, it includes the symbolic use of (7) natural objects: we can read meanings in facial gestures, or we talk about the language of flowers, in which pansies represent thought; lilies, purity; and forget-me-nots, remembrance.

The fact that so many different things can be called language is not a recent discovery. Ralston Skinner, in a passage quoted by H.P.B. (I, 308), points to this very fact:

To clear up an ambiguity as to the term language: Primarily the word means the expression of ideas by human speech; but, secondarily, it may mean the expression of ideas by any other instrumentality.

It is, however, easy to confuse the many senses of language, and any of us may do so when we talk about ways of conveying meaning. We often confuse speech with writing in a careless manner of talking about one or the other, and so did Blavatsky. Thus she remarks, "The Devanagari — the Sanskrit characters — is the 'Speech of the Gods' and Sanskrit the divine language" (CW VII, 264). On the one hand, she correctly distinguishes between devanagari, the characters for writing Sanskrit, and the Sanskrit language or speech itself; but at the same time, she refers to the written characters as "speech," an obvious inconsistency. Blavatsky may have been thinking of the Sanskrit word as meaning 'speech of the gods,' but its etymological sense is rather 'divine city (writing).'

Devanagari is a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary. It has some letters that represent vowels (when the vowels form syllables without any consonant) and other letters that represent consonants plus the vowel "A". Diacritic marks (signs like accents) are added above or below a consonant letter to show that it is followed by some vowel other than "a" or that it is followed by no vowel at all. Although an unusual form of writing, devanagari is clearly one in which the characters stand for sounds. Therefore it is puzzling to see H.P.B. remark,

Real Devanagari — non-phonetic characters — meant formerly the outward signals, so to say, the signs used in the intercommunication between gods and initiated mortals. (CW V, 306)

The writing system we know as devanagari has clearly phonetic characters. So either H.P.B. means that originally the characters had some additional, nonphonetic value, or she means that the historical devanagari developed out of or was influenced by or replaced some earlier nonphonetic system of writing. The importance of this remark about devanagari is that it shows one must be careful in interpreting what H.P.B. means. A facile interpretation is likely to be wrong.

It is even possible that the "real devanagari" H.P.B. refers to may not be a writing system at all — at least, in the strict sense of a system of visible marks that represent the sounds or words of a language. In the Glossary (316), the term symbolism is defined thus:

The pictorial expression of an idea or a thought. Primordial Writing had at first no characters, but a symbol generally stood for a whole phrase or sentence. A symbol is thus a recorded parable, and a parable a spoken symbol. The Chinese written language is nothing more than symbolical writing, each of its several thousand letters being a symbol.

Several different things are combined in that statement. Chinese writing is properly speaking ideographic; that is, its characters stand basically for word meanings rather than word sounds. When, however, a pictorial symbol stands for a whole group of ideas or thoughts that might be variously expressed by a sentence or group of sentences, it is a pictograph and is not properly writing at all, but rather a form of communication out of which primordial writing may indeed have developed. An example of a pictograph is an Amerindian drawing that depicts a treaty of friendship between Indian tribes and the American government. .................................................................. Figure 2



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