Lingua Ignota of Hildegard von Bingen

I will return repeatedly to one of her most potent metaphors - viriditas, “greenness” - with which she describes not only God's natural world, but all that is spiritually creative and filled with the sap, the sudor of divine life, as opposed to the aridity of human sin. -pp3

Hildegard's language demonstrates a unique linguistic development of both this viriditas and this aedificumin finding new verdant words within a hierarchical and artificial structure meant to redeem speech that has fallen from another tower. -pp 4

Hildegard's metaphor is scattered throughout her writings: viriditas, “greenness” or “greening power” or even “vitality” is associated with all that partakes in God's living presence, including blossoming nature, the very sap (sudor, sweat) that fills out leaves and shoots. It is a “profound, immense, dynamically energised term” write Baird and Ehrman, and closely associated with humiditas, moisture. Hildegard writes to Adam the Abbot that “the grace of God glitters like the sun and sends forth its gifts variously: one in way of wisdom (sapientia), another in viridity (uiriditate), a third in moisture (humiditate)”. In her letter to Tenxwind she compares the virginal beauty of woman to the earth, which exudes (sudat) the greenness or vitality of the grass. Virgin May, of course, is viridissima virga, “greenest branch” in Hildegard's Symphonia (…) Aridity, on the other hand, represents the faithless, the unspiritual, the abandonment of virtues in their greenness: that which withers and is burned up at Judgement. “Wathc with caution” she writes again to the Abbot, “lest your greennes (uiriditas), given to you by God, should dry up (arescat) through the fickleness of your thought.” Inventing a language, then, which can reinject new sap into known language, even more so than the revered Latin or Greek, is definitely something Hildegard would do or “discover” through the grace of God, since L. inventio has the dual meaning of “authoring” and “finding”. In this discussion of the Lingua, I use the term 'green“ not only to suggest an ongoing and ever-changing tradition of linguistic creativity to be found in language experiments old and new, but also a reinvigoration of creative philology. (…) Green evokes the sense of “new” in English: to green language is to strip it of its withered bark, the overly familiar associations we normally give to words (…) A green language is a sapling: new, in the process of growth. There is something divine, as Hildegard understood it, about renaming the physical world and our spiritual concepts in unique euphonious words, giving a new body to humanity and nature. (…) “Glossopoiea” (…) is the conscious creation of a coherent language, just as “mythoboiea” is the invention of a coherent mythos, a story about an invented world. -pp 19-21

In bringing the spiritual and the material together in her Lingua, she invoked what the Russian formalists called ostranenie - making the familiar strange, or rather making the things of this world divine again through the alterity of new signs. In this sense it is a product of her viriditas - greenness - making moist and green what threatenst to become corrupted, mendacious, ill-used and dried out, but it is also a product of her keen interest in divine structure: The Tower reassembled. It is a way to rename her world in personal and spiritual terms, which on one level elevates even excretement to a new form of speaking about it (…) -pp 111

Highley, S.L. (2007): Hildegard of Bingen's Unknown Language. Palgrave Macmillan, New York


The first 30 entries are (after Roth 1880)

  • Aigonz (deus)
  • Aieganz (angelus)
  • Zuuenz (sanctus)
  • Liuionz (salvator)
  • Diueliz (diabolus)
  • Ispariz (spiritus)
  • Inimois (homo)
  • Jur (vir)
  • Vanix (femina)
  • Peuearrez (patriarcha)
  • Korzinthio (propheta)
  • Falschin (vates)
  • Sonziz (apostolus)
  • Linschiol (martir)
  • Zanziuer (confessor)
  • Vrizoil (virgo)
  • Jugiza (vidua)
  • Pangizo (penitens)
  • Kulzphazur (attavus)
  • Phazur (avus)
  • Peueriz (pater)
  • Maiz (maler [mater? - DH])
  • Hilzpeueriz (nutricus)
  • Nilzmaiz (noverca)
  • Scirizin (filius)
  • Hilzscifriz (privignus)
  • Limzkil (infans)
  • Zains (puer)
  • Zunzial (iuvenis Bischiniz adolescens)

“The Lingua Ignota contains only nouns and a few adjectives. […] These are followed by other familial relationships, body-parts, illnesses, religious and hierarchical terms, ranks of nobility, craftsmen, days, months, clothing, household instruments, many growing things and a few birds and insects. Quadrupeds are lacking.” –Douglas S. Bigham

  • lingua_ignota.txt
  • Last modified: 2022-04-13 03:21
  • by maja