62 • On the Grammar and Etymology of “Being”

We need not go into the details of how grammar was inaugurated with the Greeks, was taken over by the Romans, and was passed on to the Middle Ages and modernity. We are acquainted with many details of this process. So far, there has been no really thoroughgoing investigation of this happening that has been so fundamental for the establishment and formation of the whole Western spirit. We even lack an adequate way of posing the questions in such a meditation, which one day we will no longer be able to avoid, as irrelevant as this whole process may seem to the preoccupations of today.

The fact that the development of Western grammar began with Greek meditation on the Greek language gives this process its whole meaning. For along with the German language, Greek (in regard to the possibilities of thinking) is at once the most powerful and the most spiritual of languages.

Above all we must consider the fact that the definitive differentiation of the fundamental forms of words (noun and verb) in the Greek form of ὄνομα and ῥῆμα was worked out and first established in the most immediate and intimate connection with [44|61] the conception and interpretation of Being that has become definitive for the entire West. This inner coupling of these two happenings is accessible to us unimpaired and is carried out in full clarity in Plato’s Sophist. The terms ὄνομα and ῥῆμα were already known before Plato, of course. But at that time, and still in Plato, they were understood as terms denoting the use of words as a whole. Ὄνομα means the linguistic naming as distinguished from the named person or thing, and it also means the speaking of a word, which was later conceived grammatically as ῥῆμα. And ῥῆμα in turn means the spoken word, speech; the ῥήτωρ is the speaker, the orator, who uses not only verbs but also ὀνόματα in the narrower meaning of the substantive.

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