Back in 1926, when the Hebrew language was at the early stages of being renewed and adopted by the Zionist movement, Gershom Scholem, a renowned German research of Judaism mysticism, wrote a letter to his friend, Franz Rosenzweig. The letter, available online (in Hebrew) expresses a belief that languages have a life force, a personality of their own.
Scholem was concerned that by raising a generation of children as native speakers of an ancient language, now being revived, the life force of that language would revive, as well, bringing with it all the ancient demons. Writes Scholem:
A language is composed of nouns, the force of the language is enveloped in the noun, and its abyss is sealed therein. After we’ve conjured up the ancient nouns day after day, we can no longer push away their powers. We have awakened them, and they will appear, for we have conjured them up very forcefully. […]
Every word that was not just recreated but actually taken from the “good old” treasure-trove is chock full of explosives.
Hebrew source here, my translation.
The letter continues with the opinion that this is the road to an apocalypse.
In reading the Pentateuch, and again in reaching old myths like those of Gilgamesh and Atraharsis, I hear the rumbling of those ancient words. My interest is Sumerian, far more than Hebrew, and Akkadian and Aramaic. But these languages are powerfully laden with demons of their own.
Unlike Hebrew, they don’t seem to lead to an apocalypse, exactly. They lead, though, to an utter revolution in the way we live in the world. I hear the rumblings of Humbaba, unhappy in his grave for as many as six centuries, wanting to come out and walk the pathways of the world again. He was a reasonable forest guardian, willing to negotiate. I hear his footsteps coming closer, closer…
I have an overpowering sense of anticipation: the spirit of Sumer will rise again, in our time. What form will it take? I can’t wait to find out.