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Reformation, univocal language, language of Adam


Reformers in seventeenth-century England often spoke of a language of nature, sometimes referred to as the language of Adam. By this, they did not refer to what we would call a natural language, like English or French, but to a univocal language where words and things corresponded perfectly. They insisted that it need not be a dream; it could be made a reality if students would only turn form syllogisms to nature itself. With this insistence, Francis Bacon and others created the false impression that language theory in their time was essentially Adamic, committed to the view that all languages contained the remnants of the original language. They also left the impression that their plans for a universal language were entirely new. In fact, the medieval grammarians had questioned the Adamic model and had studied the universal properties of language. A useful corrective may be found in the works of Godfrey Goodman, a conservative Augustinian who was familiar with the writings of Bacon's Scholastic predecessors. While others hoped to repair "the ruines of Babell" (Webster 23), Goodman recognized that Babel would be as much a mistake the second time as it had been the first, and more so because it "could not be built but with church stones" (Creatures 34). Using Scholastic logic and a remarkable literary talent, he argued that mankind would have to wait for a second Pentecost (Fall of Man 308).