The Romanian sine ‘self’ – a linguistic perspective presented at the 20th Ecumenical Theological and Interdisciplinary Symposium Metropolitan College of New York

Author: Ana R. Chelariu, MA, MLS

If we take the idea expressed by G. H. Mead that language is at the heart of the constitution of the self, (1934) a short linguistic approach to the concept of self, soul, spirit may be due. In the Greek world the word Psyche as expressed in Homeric poems meant the dead or, described death, most likely associated with breath. Similar association between breath and soul is found also in the Romanian neuter noun suflet, ‘soul’, derived from the verb a sulfa, suflare ‘to breathe, breath’. Other languages associated the Soul with the Spirit, for example the Latin, and with it the Romance languages, where Aminus, Anima meant ‘spirit’; the same approach we find in Slavic languages. The German seele and English soul are of obscure origin, whereas the Self is found in many Indo-European languages. The occurrence of different nouns to express both concepts ‘the soul’ and ‘the self’ may indicate that they were perceived as two entities, even if in philosophical discourse they are often inter-used. When Plato discusses the ‘cultivation of the soul’ as the primary duty for making it capable to control the body and its passions he refers to the Soul as intellectual and moral Self.

The Self or the One’s own inner center (psychic nucleus) was in the earliest formulation of the modern psychology derived from the distinction between the Self as I, the subjective knower, and the Self as Me, the object that is known. This approach seems to offer the distinction between the concept of ‘self’ as a noun and the pronominal forms involved in an action, ‘myself’, yourself’, etc.

From a linguistic perspective the word ‘self’ in Indo-European languages has its root in the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed form *séwe, Skt svá ‘one’s own’, Toch A ṣñi ‘one’s own’ Toch B  ṣañ ‘one’s own’, Latin sē ‘him-/her-/itself’, OHG sih ‘him-/her-/itself’, which developed in English as self; German das Selbst, sich; French le soi, Lithuanian save ‘-self’, Romanian neuter sine, feminine  sinea ‘the self’. By observing the Tocharic forms it appears that perhaps the oldest meanings of this word was ‘one’s own’, covering both notions of possession and action. The pronominal aspect of this concept, attached to the actioner, received the characteristics of the person making the action, masculine, feminine or neuter, particularly in the later developments of the West European languages, as in ‘I myself did that’, whereas the invariable form became attached to the subject I, the Self, indicating perhaps a later development.

The Romanian concept of the Self sine is explained in grammar books as the third reflexive pronoun in accusative, a compound form, partially of Latin origin, si+ne<Lat. se- plus -ne, the last particle being considered of Dacian origin (Istoria limbii Române, 1969, p. 239), and showing perhaps a relation to the Toch B ṣañ, or the Welsh hunan. The Romanian pronoun is used mainly with prepositions as in pentru/dela/în sine ‘for/from/in himself/herself/itself’. Similarly, can be used as the first and second personal pronouns in accusative pentru/dela/in mi-ne ‘for/to/of me’, pentru/dela/in ti-ne ‘for/to/of you’, explained again through the Lat. me, te plus Dacian ne. The neutral third person form is preferred in expressions like lucrul in sine ‘the thing in itself’, viața în sine ‘life in itself’, but it also can be used in expressions like în sinea lucrurilor ‘in the essence of things’, în sinea lumii, ‘in the essence of the world, of nature’. The noun Sine is used in philosophic discourse connoting ‘the Self’ – Sinele (with the enclitic article –le).

Interestingly, what separates the Romanian language from the others in the Indo-European group is the presence of the feminine form sinea, with the same meaning ‘the Self’, generally used by all speakers to express the idea of ‘within’ the self, in expressions like în sinea mea am decis ca… ‘within myself I decided that…’, or în sinea ta ‘within yourself’, în sinea lui/ei ‘within him/her-self’.

The existence of both forms, neuter and feminine only in Romanian language leads to speculations regarding the approach to consciousness by its speakers. Thus, although they act as a pair, the feminine sinea is less used by itself in a discourse, whereas sine, sine-le (enclitic article) acquired the qualities of a noun ‘the consciousness, the self’, frequently used in psychology, philosophy, and such.

Constatnin Noica, (1970) a famous Romanian philosopher, opened a door for us into the beauty and uniqueness of the Romanian language. He especially discussed the destiny of this pair sinele and sinea, in company of the Greek Logos and Eros, or the Latin Animus and Anima. In his opinion the Romanian Sine has broken the circle of a passive I, entering, philosophically, into the universal sphere of spiritual family, the culture, the historic moment, expressing one’s ideals, liberties, of the lucid I (das Ich) in its intention to reach the deepness of the Self (das Selbst). Whereas Sinea expresses the feminine principle beyond humans, intimate with nature and the germinating night.

The unique presence of this peculiar pair in Romanian language does not have a quick answer. One attempt could be made to explain the word formation sinea by association with the Romanian word for ‘the heart’ inima, also a feminine noun. With its root in the Latin Animus, Anima, ‘soul, spirit’ the Dacians preferred and retained the feminine form Anima, and developed it into the noun inima ‘the heart’. Perhaps this pair of feminine concepts sinea and inima influenced each other, and perhaps the people living in the Roman province north of Danube River retained the concept of Anima ‘spirit’ according to their own understanding, as Anima ‘the spirit’ was located in the chest from where the emotions flow, where the heart is. For the concept of the spirit to name the physical organ inima the Daco-Romanians may asserted their believe that the spirit ‘animates’ the heart, or that the spirit and the heart are one. Perhaps this union between the heart, the soul and the spirit, this alignment between the self and the heart, was believed to lead to a harmony desired by humans.

The connection between breath and spirit, soul and self is thus historically attested, and the development of such concepts in philosophy and religion keeps showing the continual need of humans to understand the nature of self.



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