Language and Its Purpose
LANGUAGE is a gift of the great Creator, the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present.” Even the great American lexicographer, Noah Webster, declared: “Language as well as the faculty of speech was the immediate gift of God.” Use it well.—Jas. 1:17, NW.
Jehovah expresses his will through the spoken word. With him it is inherent, alive, exerting awesome power, fulfilling his purposes. His word never returns to him void. “God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.” “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth,” says Jehovah. “It shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”—Job 37:5; Isaiah 55:11.
Speech when properly used reflects the beauty and glory of its Maker, Jehovah. “Like apples of gold in a setting of carved silver is a word that is aptly spoken.” “An apt utterance is a joy to a man; and a word in season—how good it is!” In creating creatures of different stations in life, God granted them the gift of speech. The Logos became God’s spokesman, capable of perfectly conveying the thoughts and purposes of Jehovah to all creation. Angels became messengers, with vocal powers to sing and to communicate with man and God. On earth the inspired Record shows that the first man Adam was made with a fine set of vocal organs and a tongue of far greater agility and flexibility than that of the other creatures on earth created before him. Though it be true that the cries of the lower animals are language in so far as they give expression to their state of mind, and that they have a vocal means of communication, yet such ability could not compare with man’s far-surpassing ability to articulate speech, to divide sounds up into syllables and words and by arrangement or combination of these to have a vocabulary and speak distinctly and connectedly.—Prov. 25:11; 15:23, AT.
Rather than his learning to speak by imitating the animals, beginning with grunts and growls, as is taught by evolution, the facts as set down in the book of Genesis are that Adam made almost immediate use of his powers of speech by bestowing names upon the various animal creations. This took the quality of reasoning, the exercise of reflection, thinking and judging, the inner action of the mind and the outward expression in words. The naming of animal creation took a sizable vocabulary. This was in essence an intelligence test.
Also, when Adam took Eve to himself as wife, he spoke out intelligently, saying: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.” While language has changed, man to this very day says in substance the same thing when he selects a wife for himself. Eve, too, was endowed with the same power of expression as Adam, namely, to speak, using words and phrases; a language to express their mutual ideas and fellowship. They knew that language is for the purpose of exchanging thoughts, a means of communication of a message or a commandment, to converse with each other. Eve was well equipped for this purpose. This made her an ideal helper, a complement of the man. She was also equipped to pass this wonderful gift to her offspring.—Gen. 2:23, NW.
SPEECH A SOCIAL ACTIVITY
Language is not instinctive with humankind, as communication is with the lower animals. The art of speech must be taught him. With humans, then, speech is progressive. Instinct differs from intelligence in that intelligence resides essentially in the variability of the means it uses, whereas instinct is invariably an inherent force of law. A. W. Holmes said: “A goose flies by a chart which the Royal Geographical Society could not mend.” Colton declared: “Though reason is progressive, instinct is stationary. Five thousand years have added no improvement to the hive of a bee, or the house of a beaver,” and, we might add, to the language of the wild. But with humankind language has changed.
With humankind speech is a social activity. Man cannot live without the cooperation of his fellow men. The chief purpose of speech among men is to secure this co-operation and thus achieve some form of self-realization, to accomplish his desires and to be a reflecting glory to the Creator. Eve showed that she fully understood this basic truth, when she said to the serpent: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for eating of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it for fear you may die.’” This command was first given to her husband Adam, and using speech Adam communicated the law perfectly to his wife, which she by her own expression showed she understood. The communicative process is completed only when the speaker gets a response by word, look, gesture or even silence (for silence is sometimes eloquent), which will enable him to judge the attitude of the listener and hence the degree of his own success or failure. “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” Eve by her expression demonstrated that she fully understood the reason for speech.—Gen. 3:2, 3; 2:16, 17, NW; Prov. 17:28.
For over 1700 years after man’s creation it could still be said: “Now all the earth continued to be of one language and of one set of words [or, “one vocabulary,” margin].” Confusion of languages came as a result of an act of God. It was Jehovah’s reply to a God-defying people, who endeavored to establish a union of mankind, a world government with headquarters at Babel. The Scriptural account of this reads: “And Jehovah proceeded to go down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men had built. After that Jehovah said: ‘Look! They are one people and there is one language for them all, and this is what they start to do. Why, now there is nothing that they may scheme to do that will be unattainable for them. Come now! Let us go down and there confuse their language that they may not listen to one another’s language.’ Accordingly Jehovah scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth, and they gradually left off building the city. That is why its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth and Jehovah had scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth.”—Gen. 11:1, 5-9, NW.
After the breakup at Babel men began to drift to all parts of the earth. Because men were not bound together by close communication ties, differences of speech, even among those of the same language group, would quickly crop out, dialects would spring up, and eventually new languages would be born, similar to and yet distinct from the parent language. Restless factors kept the world’s tongues in a fairly constant state of change. Distance or physical barriers, wars and conquests, perhaps climate, an effort to eliminate more difficult sounds or sound combinations, and a desire to imitate prominent or popular persons—all these have played their part, until today the babel of tongues has reached an incredible figure of 2,796 tongues; some spoken by millions, others by only a few hundred.
While the reputable English language contains some 700,000 words, the language of the Aranta tribe in the interior of Australia is limited to 400 to 500 words. This tiny vocabulary is not due to lack of intelligence on the part of its speakers. Apparently extreme isolation has enabled them to get along with this vocabulary.
Language is unquestionably a barrier but not necessarily a divisive force. Unity can be attained despite the language barrier through the practice of the “pure language.” The pure language is the perfect understanding of Jehovah’s purposes as recorded in his Word the Bible, and as that purpose was revealed by Jesus Christ. Pure language is truth free from all religious adulteration. It was given to Adam and Eve, but was perverted shortly thereafter when the serpent, the Devil, spoke for a selfish purpose to lead man to creature worship. Since that day only a few have learned the pure language.
The prophet Joel foretold the time when the holy spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh, enabling people of good will to learn and to speak the language that does lead to life. That time came A.D. 33. Men and women learned that the pure language was the speech of the pure worship of Almighty God, Jehovah. The spirit of God empowered them on this occasion to speak in different languages and those gathered at Jerusalem were able to understand the good news of the Kingdom. The apostle Peter, using his powers of speech to speak forth the pure language, climaxed his discourse with these words: “And then anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved.”—Acts 2:1-21, NW.
Now, in these days of the complete and final fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, there exists among those who live in hope of a new world a language that is truly international, surmounting all barriers and being spoken by persons of many, many tongues. It is pure and not difficult to acquire if the student is sincere. It was foretold at Zephaniah 3:9 (AS): “For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of Jehovah, to serve him with one consent.”
This pure language is being spoken today by Jehovah’s people in all nations, uniting them in bonds of love and Christian brotherhood, despite their native tongues. It unites them in giving testimony to Jehovah’s name and kingdom. Thus, even though Jehovah’s witnesses are scattered over the face of the earth in more than 159 lands, yet through the power of God’s spirit and the pure language they are united as one New World society. Worldly barriers are no obstacle to them.
Learn the pure language, for not only will it help you to communicate and make friends with peoples of all nations, but it will bring life to you and your listeners; and, most important of all, you will be using speech for its intended purpose, that of giving glory to Jehovah’s name.