LANGUAGE AND THE RHETORICAL REPRESENTATION OF LIFE

An Editorial by Floyd Hardin

Language is to be considered, not merely as a tool for communication, but as a companion to man, intimately engaged with him in his effort to construct and maintain a rhetorical representation of life.

Words are something more than passive vehicles for the exact and solemn conveyance of thought. They are clever actors upon the stage; they are puppets, dancing upon the green or on the mountain tops; they are clowns, jocular, whimsical, deceitful, yet sometimes solemn; ever pulling man back into the Past, to survey his humble beginnings; or projecting him into the Future, with its fair promises of fulfillment.

The scientific description of life is a bald recital of things as they are; the rhetorical representation of life addresses itself to a world in process of creation: where black is not so very black nor white so very white; and where there are merciful exceptions to the fateful rule and sway of natural law. Science traces outlines and boundaries; Rhetoric shouts prophesies. Through the offices of Science men survive; through the ministries of Rhetoric, men live.

In an age when the Empire of Science dares to ruthlessly invade every intimate precinct of life, to bring all vital phenomena within the confines of a discrete and measured system, language has proudly held herself inviolate to the rude rape of the measureable and the quantitative.

Until the days of Boas, Sapir and Bloomfield, language, like a capricious and singing maiden, went on her merry and unpredictable way, bearing the cultural treasures of the Past into the market-place of the Present; boldly projecting the Present into the Future: always the intimate and vocal companion of man, voicing his joys, sorrows, defeats and despairs.

But early in the 20th Century there came into being a school of linguists who conspired to put language upon the dissecting table and cut her up into little pieces, just to see what made her "tick." Under the imposing name of "Descriptive and Structural Linguistics, it was proposed to submit language to certain rigorous methods of statistical analysis and to apply the measuring stick, the clock and the Geiger counter to a phenomenon of life which is essentially immeasurable.

Surprisingly enough, under this audacious assault, certain areas of language, such as philology, rhetoric, literary criticism and theoretical semantics, declined to submit themselves to the rigid, pre-fabricated frames of these quantitative inquiries. The operation proceeded, but only upon the corpus of language; its soul and its essence had happily escaped.

Born within the fires of the qualitative, language will always resist the imposition upon her of the rigorous schemata of quantitative analysis. These cold disciplines will never seduce her. Conditioned by those emotional circumstances which attended her birth and those tragic vicissitudes which have shaped her history, language is disposed to yield herself only to "the discipline of the humanities.”

Even today, as the Regimen of Science, leads all men to the brink of the abyss, language pursues her ancient and prophetic role: to ever keep alive within the minds of men the great words of life: "mother”, "God", "love", “baby", "bread", "eternity.”

The Big Lie, under which we stagger, has come to us from Science, with its factual and unimaginative description of the status quo. Such a naked description of life is not only ineffectual, but profane, since it carries with it no promise of hope and no voice of prophesy.

Born out of the agonies and ecstasies of life, its fateful wants and its long weariness, language continues to live, only as it closely consorts with man, in his capricious, illogical and unpredictable behaviour. Language will ever laugh at "facts". Together with man, language knows that there is no such thing as a "fact"; there is only an interpretation of "facts".

Through the perpetuation of words, high in cultural and emotional content, language may be depended upon to faithfully adhere to humanistic values and to ever portray life in hopeful, challenging and rhetorical terms.

The will and testament of Science has been written by its own hand: to set forth in equations, mathematical formulae and digital codification, its statistical and quantitative findings.

The will and testament of language has been conditioned and determined by the tragic history of man: to create and to maintain in the void of human failure and despair, a rhetorical representation of life.


SOURCE: Hardin, Floyd. “Language and the Rhetorical Representation of Life” [editorial], International Language Review, Vol. IV, no. 12, July – September, 1958, pp. [1-2].


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