De vulgari eloquentia (I, ii, 1-8)

(1) Hec est nostra vera prima locutio. Non dico autem 'nostra', ut et aliam sit esse locutionem quam hominis; nam eorum que sunt omnium soli homini datum est loqui, cum solum sibi necessarium fuerit. (1) This, in truth, is our primary language. I do not, though, say 'our' because there is or could be any other kind of language than that of human beings; for, of all creatures that exist, only human beings were given the power of speech, because only to them was it necessary.
(2) Non angelis, non inferioribus animalibus necessarium fuit loqui: sed nequicquam datum fuisset eis; quod nempe facere natura abhorret. (2) It was not necessary that either angels or the lower animals should be able to speak; rather, this power would have been wasted on them, and nature, of course, hates to do anything superfluous.
(3) Si etenim perspicaciter consideramus quid cum loquimur intendamus, patet quod nichil aliud, quam nostre mentis enucleare aliis conceptum. Cum igitur angeli ad pandendas gloriosas eorum conceptiones habeant promptissimam atque ineffabilem sufficientiam intellectus, qua vel alter alteri totaliter innotescit per se, vel saltim per illud fulgentissimum speculum in quo cuncti representantur pulcerrimi atque avidissimi speculantur, nullo signo locutionis indiguisse videntur. (3) Now, if we wish to define with precision what our intention is when we speak, it is clearly nothing other than to expound to others the concepts formed in our minds. Therefore, since the angels possess, in order to communicate their own glorious conceptions, a ready and ineffable sufficiency of intellect - through which either they make themselves, in themselves, completely known to each other, or, at least, are reflected, in the fullness of their beauty and ardour, by that resplendent mirror which retains an image of all of them - they seem not to have needed signs to represent speech.
(4) Et si obiciatur de hiis qui corruerunt spiritibus, dupliciter responderi potest. Primo, quod cum de hiis que necessaria sunt ad bene esse tractamus, eos preterire debemus, cum divinam curam perversi expectare noluerunt. Vel secundo et melius, quod ipsi demones ad manifestandam inter se perfidiam suam non indigent nisi ut sciant quilibet de quolibet quia est et quantus est: quod quidem sciunt; cognoverunt enim se invicem ante ruinam suam. (4) And if it be objected that some angels have fallen from heaven, a twofold answer may be made. First, that when we are discussing things that are necessary for a rightly ordered life, we should leave the fallen angels aside, since, in their perversity, they chose not to wait on God's care; second, and better, that these demons, in order to demonstrate their corruption to each other, need only to know, of anyone of their number, the nature and the degree of his fallen condition. And this they already know, for they knew each other before their ruin.
(5) Inferioribus quoque animalibus, cum solo nature instinctu ducantur, de locutione non oportuit provideri. Nam omnibus eiusdem speciei sunt iidem actus et passiones; et sic possunt per proprios alienos cognoscere. Inter ea vero que diversarum sunt specierum, non solum non necessaria fuit locutio, sed prorsus dampnosa fuisset, cum nullum amicabile commertium fuisset in illis. (5) As for the lower animals, since they are guided only by their natural instinct, it was not necessary for them to be given the power of speech. For all animals that belong to the same species are identical in respect of action and feeling; and thus they can know the actions and feelings of others by knowing their own. Between creatures of different species, on the other hand, not only was speech unnecessary, but it would have been injurious, since there could have been no friendly exchange between them.
(6) Et si obiciatur de serpente loquente ad primam mulierem, vel de asina Balaam, quod locuti sint, ad hoc respondemus quod angelus in illa et diabolus in illo taliter operati sunt quod ipsa animalia moverunt organa sua, sic ut vox inde resultavit distincta tanquam vera locutio: non quod aliud esset asine illud quam rudere, nec quam sibilare serpenti. (6) And if it be objected that the serpent addressed the first woman, or that the ass did likewise to Balaam, and that they did so by speaking, I reply that an angel (in the latter case) and the devil (in the former) brought it about that the animals in question manipulated their vocal organs in such a way that a sound came out that resembled real speech; but to the ass this was nothing more than braying, to the serpent, only hissing.
(7) Si vero contra argumentetur quis de eo quod Ovidius dicit in quinto Metamorfoseos de picis loquentibus, dicimus quod hoc figurate dicit, aliud intelligens. Et si dicatur quod pice adhuc et alie aves locuntur, dicimus quod falsum est; quia talis actus locutio non est, sed quedam imitatio soni nostre vocis; vel quod nituntur imitari nos in quantum sonamus, sed non in quantum loquimur. Unde si expresse dicenti 'Pica' resonaret etiam 'Pica', non esset hoc nisi representatio vel imitatio soni illius qui prius dixisset. (7) Moreover, if anyone finds a contrary argument in what Ovid, in the fifth book of the Metamorphoses, says about talking magpies, I reply that this is said figuratively, and means something else. And if it be claimed that, to this day, magpies and other birds do indeed speak, I say that this is not so; for their act is not speaking, but rather an imitation of the sound of the human voice - or it may be that they try to imitate us in so far as we make a noise, but not in so far as we speak. So that, if to someone who said 'pica' [magpie] aloud the bird were to return the word 'pica', this would only be a reproduction or imitation of the sound made by the person who uttered the word first.
(8) Et sic patet soli homini datum fuisse loqui. Sed quare necessarium sibi foret, breviter pertractare conemur. (8) And so it is clear that the power of speech was given only to human beings. But now I shall try briefly to investigate why it should have been necessary for them.