Studies in honor of Eddo Rigotti
Edited By Giovanni Gobber and Andrea Rocci
Georges Lüdi: Do languages “really” exist or are they mere discursive constructions?
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Do languages “really” exist or are they mere discursive constructions?
GEORGES LÜDI, University of Basel
In our daily life, we are constantly surrounded, not to say bombarded, by a myriad of vocal and written signs that represent a central part of our environment and actually help us to live (see also the studies about what is called the “linguistic landscape” [cf. Landris and Bourhis 1997; Gorter ed. 2006; Shohamy and Gorter 2008; Hélot et al. eds. 2012]). If we define language as “the totality of utterances that can be made” (Bloomfield 1926), there seems to be no doubt that it is ‘real’ in its intrinsic materiality. We may also adopt an idealistic conception of language as a species-specific property and genetically inherited capacity. As Hilty (1974: 44f.) put it:
Imagine a world where all written signs and all recordings of oral language have disappeared and where all human beings have fallen into a dreamless sleep. What remains is language [my translation].
Modern neuroimaging technologies (e.g. Perani and Abutalebi 2005) allow us to see that there is a material representation of language use or languaging (Pennycook 2010) in the brain that can be empirically described and measured and manifestly has its roots in neural engrams as a mental property.
But this is, of course, not the whole answer to our question. In fact, Bloomfield’s definition of language as quoted above is incomplete....
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