Saturday, January 03, 2009

babble from Babel 2

This is an extension of part 1. The upshot of part 1 is that there were two words for language in Hebrew, sefat, the lip; and lashon, the tongue. And in Genesis 11 the word used is sefat. However, in the Septuagint the word cheila is used at first and then the word glossa, for tongue.


This devolution turns up in the Latin Vulgate as well, first labium and then lingua. Pagnini tries to retrap the original Hebrew, that was his game, but in the English it all became "language," which comes from lingua.

Since sefat and lashon are both used in Hebrew, and we see sefat here, then the word with a feminine connotation has been chosen. However, once the story came into Greek, Latin and the other European languages, the word "tongue" or "language" was used. There is no way to avoid this that I know.

Of course, this was not a deliberate obscuring of the feminine and perhaps has no real significance, but it is a demonstration of the fact that original feminine imagery is sometimes lost. We might say that in this case, Greek and Latin have contributed to a subtle masculinization of the text.

The point of this story of Babel? Alter says that it is a "polemic against urbanization and the overweening confidance of humanity in the feats of technology."

Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses page 38

1 comment:

J. K. Gayle said...

Of course, this was not a deliberate obscuring of the feminine and perhaps has no real significance, but it is a demonstration of the fact that original feminine imagery is sometimes lost. We might say that in this case, Greek and Latin have contributed to a subtle masculinization of the text.

Another great post! Maybe this sometimes lost feminine imagery is one of the points of the story of Babel, in addition to what Alter says. I wonder what would be gained if a Sappho or a Christine de Pizan or a Laura Cereta or a Simone de Beauvoir were writing, telling, or translating.