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This article is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

Why So Much Talk About Language In Our Time? Laura (Riding) Jackson


Much of the talk about language in our time is loosely general, of a head-shaking sort - split between lamentation on its 'limitations', a term of latter-day philosophic scepticism about its reliability, and, altogether dissociated from this position, lamentation on abuses of it as shamefully prevalent in current verbal practice. But this talk is as a letting-off of steam by those who feel themselves to possess a special sensitivity to matters of language, and yet to be helpless with regard to them (besides deploring the 'limitations' or the abuses). The hard core of talk about language in our time is concerned with 'structuralism'. This subject, become a faith, with converts to it and non-believers in difficulties as to how to meet the challenge of the faith to their non-belief locked in a confrontation that, though inactive, stalely persists, has no tendency to vaporize itself in elaborations upon it. It presents a concrete problem, one that will not go away, if disregarded.

There has been plenty of express dissatisfaction with structuralist linguistic theory advanced by persons professionally concerned with language, either as specialists in the study of literature, or in the study of language by specialistic study of languages. But since structuralist theory is concentrated on the history of what has been and is done with language in its employment - on the analysis of 'texts', and the forms of speech that settle into extended practice - criticism of it as an inadequate account of ...

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