The Language Animal

The Language Animal

The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity

Book - 2016
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Harvard University Press
From Sources of the Self to A Secular Age, Charles Taylor has shown how we create ways of being, as individuals and as a society. Here, he demonstrates that language is at the center of this generative process. Language does not merely describe; it constitutes meaning, and the shared practice of speech shapes human experience.

In seminal works ranging from Sources of the Self to A Secular Age, Charles Taylor has shown how we create possible ways of being, both as individuals and as a society. In his new book setting forth decades of thought, he demonstrates that language is at the center of this generative process.

For centuries, philosophers have been divided on the nature of language. Those in the rational empiricist tradition—Hobbes, Locke, Condillac, and their heirs—assert that language is a tool that human beings developed to encode and communicate information. In The Language Animal, Taylor explains that this view neglects the crucial role language plays in shaping the very thought it purports to express. Language does not merely describe; it constitutes meaning and fundamentally shapes human experience. The human linguistic capacity is not something we innately possess. We first learn language from others, and, inducted into the shared practice of speech, our individual selves emerge out of the conversation.

Taylor expands the thinking of the German Romantics Hamann, Herder, and Humboldt into a theory of linguistic holism. Language is intellectual, but it is also enacted in artistic portrayals, gestures, tones of voice, metaphors, and the shifts of emphasis and attitude that accompany speech. Human language recognizes no boundary between mind and body. In illuminating the full capacity of “the language animal,” Taylor sheds light on the very question of what it is to be a human being.

Baker & Taylor
"In this book, Charles Taylor explains linguistic holism to people who believe language needs to be thought of as bits of information. According to one influential view of language, one that originated with Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac, language serves to encode information and to communicate it. This theory has been rendered more sophisticated over the last two centuries, but it still gives a central place to the encoding of information. The thesis of Taylor's new book is that this view neglects crucialfeatures of our language capacity. Sometimes language serves not just to encode information, but also shapes what it purports to describe. This language is more than merely 'descriptive;' it plays a 'constitutive' role."--Provided by publisher.

Book News
The human linguistic capacity is more multiform than has usually been supposed, argues Taylor, because it includes capacities for creating meaning that go far beyond the ability to encode and communicate information, which is often taken as its central form. He draws on ideas posited in the 1790s during German Romanticism and contrasts them with early modern, rationalist, and empiricist ideas that prevailed. His topics include designative and constitutive views, the Hobbes-Locke-Condillac theory, the figuring dimension of language, how narrative makes meaning, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016
ISBN: 9780674660205
Branch Call Number: 401 TAY
Characteristics: x, 352 p. ;,25 cm


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