Language is not merely a means of communication
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Charles Taylor’s recent book, The language animal: the full shape of the human linguistic capacity, is rich and complex. The full argument does not entirely proceed linearly. Rather, as with the hermeneutical circle, the chapters present various aspects of it, while also presupposing the whole. This complements his notion of linguistic holism, discussed below.
Taylor articulates a theory of language inspired by three nineteenth century German Romantics—Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried Herder, and William von Humboldt (HHH)—and to a lesser extent by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Taylor believes that language makes possible what Herder refers to as “reflective” consciousness. Reflective consciousness involves the notion that language is normative. Taylor speaks here of “intrinsic rightness,” so that words can be appropriate (or not) expressions of meaning. Language is also holistic, so that words have meaning only in the...