The Mystery of Language and Time

Peter Leithart, in his chapter on language from his book Traces of the Trinity:

We don’t speak isolated, individual words. Most often, we speak and write sequences of words. As Augustine recognized, the mystery of language is one dimension of the mystery of time. Spoken language exists and then dies, like the present moment. A sentence makes sense only if the earlier words of the sentence are retained as the later words come to be spoken. Only if the first words continue to live on in memory and to indwell the later words do the first words make their sense. Past indwells the present; future indwells the present. And without this mutual indwelling of first words and last words, there is no sentence. Each word struts and frets its moment on the stage, and then humbly yields to the next. If the word is a ham who tries to steal the show, it will drown out all the words that follow, and nothing will make sense. But it can’t leave the stage either, because without it the rest of the players’ speeches are contextless sound and fury, signifying nothing. Each word has to make space for the next and the next in succession. As the sentence performs, each word becomes a home to, and makes its home in, every other.

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