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A Natural yet Providential Tongue: Moses Mendelssohn on Hebrew as a Language of Action

Lifschitz, AS; (2015) A Natural yet Providential Tongue: Moses Mendelssohn on Hebrew as a Language of Action. In: Sander, S, (ed.) Language as Bridge and Border: Linguistic, Cultural and Political Constellations in Eighteenth to Twentieth Century German-Jewish Thought. (pp. 31-50). Hentrich & Hentrich: Berlin, Germany. Green open access

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Abstract

How did Moses Mendelssohn reconcile a naturalistic theory of language, advocating the contingent development of all tongues, with the belief that Hebrew did not change ever since its inception? The seeming contradiction was resolved by employing the contemporary notion of the language of action – a primordial human means of communication, where gesture and melody were as significant as words. Mendelssohn’s view of Hebrew as the language closest to this idiom was accompanied by his suggestion that the Jewish ceremonial law is a living script which can be properly understood only through oral instruction. He employed both ideas to counter the notions that the Hebrew vowel points were a late invention and that some loci in the Hebrew Bible had been subject to textual corruption. For Mendelssohn, the allegedly supernatural aspects of spoken Hebrew could be naturalised through constant and lively human conversation across the ages. The appropriation of contemporary critiques of the arbitrariness of language allowed Mendelssohn to forge an original synthesis that could simultaneously accommodate naturalism and providentialism.

Type: Book chapter
Title: A Natural yet Providential Tongue: Moses Mendelssohn on Hebrew as a Language of Action
ISBN: 3955651134
ISBN-13: 9783955651138
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://www.hentrichhentrich.de/book-language-as-br...
Language: English
Keywords: Moses Mendelssohn, Enlightenment, Language, Hebrew, Naturalism, Judaism, Arbitrariness
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1457132
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