Emerson lists the four aspects of Nature: Language, Commodity, Beauty, Discipline.  Please explain what Emerson says about language in his essay, Nature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Emerson sees language as organically grown from the natural setting.  Thus, Emerson believes language is a reflection of the world and the human being's place within it.  Emerson begins his construction of language with the opening of "Words are signs of natural facts."  From the exposition, Emerson links words with a natural condition of being in the world.  Emerson believes that language is the tool given to human beings to reflect the universal essence of being.  For Emerson, language is the tool by which individuals can articulate the oneness and unifying principles that govern the world and their place in it:

This universal soul, he calls Reason: it is not mine, or thine, or his, but we are its; we are its property and men. And the blue sky in which the private earth is buried, the sky with its eternal calm, and full of everlasting orbs, is the type of Reason. That which, intellectually considered, we call Reason, considered in relation to nature, we call Spirit. Spirit is the Creator. Spirit hath life in itself. And man in all ages and countries, embodies it in his language, as the FATHER.

The underlying essence of all language is that the "Spirit" is embedded in language.  To understand language is how Emerson believes one moves closer to this universal construction of being.

Emerson believes that individual recognition of this being finds its home in language. When individuals use language properly, it is to accentuate this spiritual condition of totality in the word. Words are seen to be a reflection of this universal essence.  Likewise, Emerson believes the corruption of language, its misuse, is the result of individuals choosing not to acknowledge the nature of the spiritual identity that binds them.  It is here where Emerson says that language is a reflection of how individuals are linked with a universal essence: 

A man's power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss. The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise, — and duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which are not; a paper currency is employed, when there is no bullion in the vaults

For Emerson, when individuals stray from the understanding of the Spirit, language suffers.  The "paper currency" is the twisting of language because the individual's own being in the world and perception of self is forlorn, a setting in which there is no emotional "bullion in the vaults."  Emerson constructs language as the way through which individuals recognize the spiritual reality. When individuals are corrupted in their mind and soul, Emerson believes language is reflective of this condition.  Language becomes the looking glass through which Emerson feels that individual oneness can be understood.  Those who recognize the spiritual essence that guides them will use language to reflect it, and those who don't won't.  

Emerson sees language as the means by which individuals acknowledge the construction of the universe.  Language is reflective of the path that individuals have chosen in self- awareness:  "This relation between the mind and matter is not fancied by some poet, but stands in the will of God, and so is free to be known by all men."  Language is not a separate faculty of the individual. Rather, it is a reflection of how individuals understand the Spirit and the condition of universality that governs them.  When language is used in its natural and original form, Emerson believes individuals better understand this reality. When it is not, individuals have strayed from truth.

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