College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

4: Material words: language as physicality

Lord Williams of Oystermouth's Gifford Lecture series is made of six lectures under the overall title ‘Making representations: religious faith and the habits of language’; fourth lecture of the series is entitled 'Material words: language as physicality'.

Lecture abstract

When we analyse speech, we are not only discussing how words work. Speech also includes gesture and rhythm. As such, speech is a means not only of mapping our environment, but also of ‘handling’ our environment and its direct impact upon us (a point that can be illustrated with reference to studies of autistic behaviour).

When we speak we create a new material situation. Correspondingly, we cannot actually think and ‘represent’ the reality of material situations without assuming an intelligent or intelligible form of some sort: ‘mindless’ matter is a chimera.

In our physical involvement with the world, the natural order evolves a representation of itself. This observation casts some light on classical Christian reflections of the world’s transparency to divine meaning - which Christians perceived as a symbolic cosmos, which was no less symbolic for being material.

Lecture video