Der Weg zur Sprache

The Way to Language

Heidegger delivered this lecture on two occasions in 1959, as part of a lecture cycle on language and information at the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts in Munich and at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. In the introduction, Heidegger describes language as the foundation of the human being. The way to language is the attempt to speak about speech qua speech. When language shows itself clearly, this definition will become a soundless echo, which let us hear something of the proper character of language.

Since the Greeks, language has been represented in terms of speech. Speaking is one kind of human activity. Heidegger abandons this approach, because he wants to understand the manner in which language has being. He wants to experience language as language. Language first shows itself as one way of speaking. Speaking must have speakers who participate in the way of speaking. They are dwelling together in language. They speak about what concerns them. Everything spoken, however, stems from the unspoken or unsaid. The nature of language exhibits a great diversity of elements and relations. Heidegger emphasizes the dynamic of language and its power of self-showing. In the nature of language, speech and what is spoken reveal themselves as that by which and within which something is given voice and language, that is, makes an appearance insofar as something is said. Heidegger insists that saying and speaking are not the same.

Speaking qua saying belongs to the design (Aufriß) of the being of language. The “ownmost” or nature of language is saying as showing. Every showing by way of language presupposes the prior presencing of that which is shown. In this sense, speaking is of itself a hearing. Language speaks by saying. Speaking as the hearing of language lets saying be said to it. Saying sets all present entities free into their given presence and brings all absent entities into their absence. It is the gathering that brings together all present and absent entities in the manifold showing and lets all that is shown abide in itself. Heidegger names this moving force in the showing of saying “owning” (Eignung). Owning is what brings all present and absent entities each into their own, where they show themselves in what they are and where they abide according to their kind.

Heidegger can now name this process of coming in its own “Ereignis.” It yields the opening of the clearing in which present entities can come to presence and from which they also recede into absence. He summarizes this dynamic by saying, Ereignis events [enowning enowns]. In this sense we may call language the house of being. As Novalis has said, language is a monologue. It is language alone that speaks authentically and language speaks lonesomely.