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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

Logocrats: a note on Joseph de Maistre, Heidegger and Pierre Boutang George Steiner

[This paper was read at a colloquium of the European University Institute at Fiesole. It is reproduced by kind permission of the EUI]

GENETIC models of language can, roughly, be separated into two classes. The first is the 'naturalist' or 'positivist' order of explanation. It regards the evolution of human language to be analogous with and closely related to the evolution of the other physiological and psychological attributes of the species. Phonetics seeks to determine the constraints and potential of vocalic expression. It does so in collaboration with comparative anatomy and neuro-physiology which seek to establish the aetiology and mechanics of vocal organs and of the speech-centres in the human cortex. Palaeo- and socio-linguistics, in turn, try to arrive at a rational account of the social, economic and ecological conditions under which speech would have been initiated and developed. The Marxist theory which relates the evolution of speech to the division of labour or recent speculations on the dynamics of reciprocity between tool-making and the development of human discourse at the end of the last ice-age, are examples of this order of explanation. A 'positivist' linguistics does not, necessarily, assert that it can provide an irrefutable theoretic and pragmatic account of the origins and growth of human speech; it does not even assert that investigations and results yet to come, in the bio-chemistry of the brain or in our understanding of pre-history, will provide a definitive explanation. But 'positivist' linguistics does insist that the problem and the ...


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