Being able to speak is the privilege of humanness. When the early chapters of B’reshit say that the first man became nefesh chayyah, a living being (Gen. 2:7), Onkelos in his Aramaic paraphrase renders the word chayyah as m’mal’la, speaking. Man became a speaking being.
Actually man is not the only speaking being in the Bible. Animals and birds also speak. Even the trees and plants utter God’s praises. And inanimate objects like the stones and mountains also make themselves heard. So – despite “As You Like It” – it wasn’t Shakespeare who first discovered that there were “tongues in trees” and “sermons in stones”. Nor was it Doctor Dolittle who found that all the animals have their own tongue. Language of various kinds is a universal phenomenon.
Yet it is the human race that is especially favoured with the ability to speak, though many human beings speak too much. There is a wisdom in silence; as the rabbis say, “If speech is worth a dollar, silence is worth two” (Lev. R. 16:5).
Martin Buber points out that there is also speech in silence. When two good friends walk along in silence, the unspoken chemistry between them tells you a great deal.