Language was, for him, an outstanding example of the past surviving, transformed, in the present .... You had to see the origin of language as the self-gathering of mind within an already mind- soaked world. It was the product of "nature" in the sense that the meanings of words, if you approached them historically, could all -- or as nearly all as made no difference -- be shown to be involved with natural phenomena. Moreover, interfusion of the sensuous (sound) with the immaterial (meaning) was still, even today, its whole point. Yet it was certainly not, in its earlier stages, the product of individual minds; for it was obviously already there at a stage of evolution when individual minds were not yet. He had no doubt of its pointing back to a state of affairs when men and nature were one in a way that had long since ceased. Even now, even in our own time, there was the mysterious "genius of language" which many philologists had detected as something that worked independently of any conscious choices. On the other hand, you could see that, as time went on, language did come to owe more and more to the working of individual minds. However you looked at it, you could not get away from the fact that every time a man spoke or wrote there was this intricate interfusion of past and present -- of the past transformed, as meaning, with the present impulse behind his act of utterance.


Owen Barfield