Wisdom of Slovenian language from the past to the future

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What could be the contribution od ecolingvistic to the ecocivilisation debate? Our language is an important issue as it articulates our relation towards the world and our acting in it.


Let’s start with the meaning of wisdom and make it simple. What is it? Definitely has to do with something basic, pristine, prehistoric event, the primeval ontological event of becoming aware of one’s own existence and its cosmic experience. A mythopoetic realization. Slovenian poet Jure Detela wrote: “[…] in the memory of the uniform universe / the solitary spark that slides in the brain / opens into poeticized space.” So wisdom is the spark of the universe in one’s brain. Any expression of it has to do with a particular language that human beings use in their reference with the universe and fellow human beings. That particular language in my case is my mother tongue: the Slovene.

“Slovo”, word, language

The Slovene language belongs to the Slavic family of languages which are part the Indo-European language group. As other Slavic languages it originates in the ancient past as one of the derivates of that major language community. What do they have in common that characterizes them as a family in a difference to other language groups? The name Slavs, Slavic comes from “slovo”, a word/language. The language that all the members of that group understood, share and use in their communication. But that word had its deeper dimension to it. It does not only express and convey meanings, but it marks and grasps the initial mythopoetic birth of cosmos from primordial chaos. It is the “word as such” that every next time articulates a basic constitutional (mythopoetic) returning of the original event. It is a living word of ritualistic function and strength to revoke that event alive in our language even today.

Thus “slovo” means that particular language of the common understanding and communicating of the people speaking one of the Slavic languages in the afterglow of its original mythopoetic event: the “Big bang” of protoslavic language/s. The particular being of word still today is preserved and kept alive in the ritual of poetry. If there is a word/language opened to wisdom in its eternal returning of the original singularity, it is poetry.

Just one example: in the Russian avant-garde futurist poetry such a “word as such” or “language of the stars” (Aleksei Kruchyonykh, Velimir Khlebnikov) anew played a decisive role resonating in the vibration of the same primordial transformation of chaos into cosmos. Same goes for the poetry of the Slovene avant-garde “constructivist” Srečko Kosovel (poem Kalejdoskop / Kaleidoscope).

At the most western margin

Slovenian is spoken by the Slovenes. We feature the most western margin of the Slavic habitation and eloquence in the word. We are on the very western border of Slavic languages and cultures. And not only today, we have always been that marginal Slavic people that historically migrated toward the West in close contacts and in the footsteps of other languages and people. Still today Slovene is the only Slavic language that borders on both other major language families of Europe: the Romance as well as Germanic group (with Hungarian at the back). We have acquired a lot of influences from the neighbouring languages and cultures. And as we in the periphery were distanced from the centre of Slavic populations, we missed some of their language developments and preserved some unique archaic features, long gone in the linguistic and cultural environment and changes of the Slavic nucleus. For instance, the dual, the grammatical number that among other functions enables to express a very intimate relation with the other (love). In the same historical process we have also acquired both the successful strength to survive the aggressive pressures of the neighbouring groups but also mastered the capacity of communicating with them on peaceful and equal terms. Though today the Slovene language is one of the smallest languages on the continent it has not only survived the historic pressures but successfully established its equal role among other European languages. The Slovene language is one of the 27 official languages of the EU.

Mythopoetic ritual

It is a common agreement that such a success has been the result of the of the original “slovo”, and the establishing drive of its mythopoetic ritual, preserved and acted out by that language capability we today call poetry: the eternal return of the same fundamental constitutional singularity of the word: the existential awareness of the birth of cosmos out of chaos. It is poetry that contributes not only to revoking of the creative language and existential rebirth of being out of the chaos of non-being but also to the global becoming being and its living acting it out. The Slovene poets successfully mastered that language and realized it on the comparatively highest level of the global cultural practice. They were the avant-garde visionaries and ethical callers for future global respect, peace, freedom, ecological care and rightful conduct (as in Zdravljica / The Toast), our national anthem, written by France Prešeren). They addressed global issues with the radical rightful calls. Not that the people always heard them. Poets like France Prešeren, Srečko Kosovel and lately Jure Detela were at the same time responding to those ancient inspirations of “slovo” (wisdom) but they have also stood firm against nihilistic tendencies and destructive processes in the world and they do that also today.

In this regard the Slovenian contemporary poet Jure Detela should be mentioned as one of the most engaged authors of such a strong and clear ethical stand. He wrote: “In the style of ecological poems of Srečko Kosovel I will express a new horror of my age.” Already some 50 years ago Detela “anticipated in a visionary manner a range of ethical, epistemological and aesthetic problems and transformations that had been theoretically articulated since his time”. In his poems not only he addressed the negative effects of disastrous contemporary economy on living being of the planet but also clearly stated the unconditional ethical and political request against such neoliberal and destructive acting of human population on our Earth: all living beings have the equal right to live.

As his poems are translated and published in English too by the Ugly Duckling Presse in New York (Moss & Silver, 2018, translated by Raymond H. Miller), now it is possible to read them also by all that do not speak Slovenian.

The living wisdom in the global world

To conclude: we could argue that the singular wisdom of the Slovenian poets (as well as philosophers) is not only the contribution of a few accidental regional geniuses but it has to do with the ancient and mithyopoetical potential of the language itself. The language of “slovo” in its epiphanies again and again has reborn it alive in all its poetic dimensions. The very special position of the Slovene language on the margins of the Slavic language family and also in communication with the neighbouring peoples it thus features an important contributing to the perseverance of the sane world. There would be no Jure Detela in any other scene or, if you want, neither Slavoj Žižek (philosophy is just another kind of the literary discourse). It has been the Slovene language and its particular location on the crossroads on the living map of contemporary languages and cultures that has been and still is preserving the living wisdom in the global world. Let’s hope, that the world will be able to follow it. And as Jure Detela would scream: STOP THE WAR. Let’s live as equals on one eco-civilized Earth in freedom and peace.

(The Connectathon – 24hr for Humanity, the Ancient Future Wisdom from Europe, 23.09.2022)

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros (Unsplash)

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