[lit-ideas] "THOR!" (Was: In the Beginning was the Word

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2007 20:35:24 EDT

>My anthropological question is whether, empirically, there is  any
>evidence of people thinking this way about language in the absence  of
One piece of evidence may be the Angles (as from Angeln, current Germany).  
They left their 'angular' land (in current Schleswig-Holstein, still called  
"Angeln") and crossed the North Sea to arrive to a land they called  
They did not carry much of a writing script with them. Some warriors  
remained pretty illiterate. Their biggest god was Thor.
This is what J. L. Borges writes about it in his Eliot Norton Lectures at  
Harvard (published by HUP, 2000):
"We might go on to other examples. Let us take the word,
and look back at the god
the Saxon counterpart of the Norse 
The word 'thunor' stood for thunder and for the god; but had we asked the  
man who came to England with Hengist whether the word stood for the rumbling in 
the sky or for the angry god, I do not think they would have been subtle 
enough  to understand the difference. I suppose that the word carried both 
meanings  _without committing itself very closely to either one of them_. I 
that  when they uttererd or heard the word 'thunder', they at the same time 
_felt_ the  low rumbling in the sky and _saw_ the lightning and _thought_ of 
god. The  words were packed with magic; they did not have a hard and fast 
meaning." (p.  80) 
Note that the word _can't_ be literate. Of the very many theories about the  
origin of language (the pooh pooh, the wow wow, the tug tug theory -- they all 
 presuppose the SPOKEN word as basic -- never the literate.
Literacy is an American invention. -- perhaps exported to Scotland. The  four 
first quotes in the OED are American (from New England, Princeton, the  
Boston Athenaeum, and a Scottish magazine). The old Angles (modern English)  
felt the _need_ to defend the status of the literate word over their  ancient 
echoes of their 'mother tongue'.
1883 New Eng. Jrnl.  Educ. XVII. 54 Massachusetts is the  first state in the 
Union in literacy in its native population. 1888  New Princeton Rev. Dec. 336  
Education is more general, our literacy greatly increased, our  habits and 
tastes more refined. 1893  Athenæum 19 Aug. 255/3 It was  for Mr. Edgar to 
the gradual progress in Scotland from illiteracy to  literacy. 1943  Amer. 
Mag. Mar. 103/1 To help  many of the poverty-stricken peoples to set their feet 
on the path of education,  manual dexterity, and economic literacy.
JL Speranza,
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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