Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2589-1588
  • E-ISSN: 2589-1596
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The present contribution aims at offering an exposition and a critical evaluation of the philosophical-anthropological theory of the origin of language developed by the American philosopher Susanne K. Langer (1895–1985). Langer’s theory traces human language and, in particular, its denotative and communicative functions, back to the expressive vocal utterances of the pre-human beings from which humanity would have derived. In her inquiry, Langer refers in particular to the article “The festal origin of the human speech” (1891–92), written by the psychologist J. Donovan. In his study, Donovan outlines a possible scenario of the birth of language out from pre-linguistic utterances: the spontaneous gatherings that hominids would have dedicated to emotionally relevant events and objects (the death of a conspecific, a killed predator or enemy). Langer refers to Donovan’s study (which she considers as a sort of fecund thought experiment) in order to highlight some basic anthropological, evolutionary, and semiotic requisites that a plausible theory on the origin of language has to fulfil. Langer’s own proposal for such a theory bases on the assumption that the functions of language (expression, denotation, communication) are separately conveyed by the different elements of the ritual situation: collective vocalizations, the festal objects themselves, and the inner images that individuals retain of the ritual experience. In its final part, the paper includes an evaluation of Langer’s theory, in particular of its semiotic and anthropological-philosophical relevance among the contributions that support (at least partially, as we will see) the thesis of the social origin of language.


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