Die Suche nach der vollkommenen Sprache

by Umberto Eco

Other authorsBurkhart Kroeber (Translator)
Hardcover, 1994



Call number

IV 25480 S766



München Beck 1994


The idea that there once existed a language which perfectly andunambiguously expressed the essence of all possible things andconcepts has occupied the minds of philosophers, theologians,mystics and others for at least two millennia. This is aninvestigation into the history of that idea and of its profoundinfluence on European thought, culture and history. From the early Dark Ages to the Renaissance it was widelybelieved that the language spoken in the Garden of Eden was justsuch a language, and that all current languages were its decadentdescendants from the catastrophe of the Fall and at Babel. Therecovery of that language would, for theologians, express thenature of divinity, for cabbalists allow access to hidden knowledgeand power, and for philosophers reveal the nature of truth.Versions of these ideas remained current in the Enlightenment, andhave recently received fresh impetus in attempts to create anatural language for artificial intelligence. The story that Umberto Eco tells ranges widely from the writingsof Augustine, Dante, Descartes and Rousseau, arcane treatises oncabbalism and magic, to the history of the study of language andits origins. He demonstrates the initimate relation betweenlanguage and identity and describes, for example, how and why theIrish, English, Germans and Swedes - one of whom presented Godtalking in Swedish to Adam, who replied in Danish, while theserpent tempted Eve in French - have variously claimed theirlanguage as closest to the original. He also shows how the lateeighteenth-century discovery of a proto-language (Indo-European)for the Aryan peoples was perverted to support notions of racialsuperiority. To this subtle exposition of a history of extraordinarycomplexity, Umberto Eco links the associated history of the mannerin which the sounds of language and concepts have been written andsymbolized. Lucidly and wittily written, the book is, in sum, atour de force of scholarly detection and culturalinterpretation, providing a series of original perspectives on twothousand years of European History. The paperback edition of this book is not available throughBlackwell outside of North America.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member KirkLowery
Since ancient times and right down into the present, mankind has been searching for (1) the original language of humans, (2) the holy language that God and Adam used, (3) language that reveals the mystical essence of the universe and things, and (4) a language that eliminates the problems of
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ambiguity and ill logic so common to natural language, that reveals in its very form the scientific essence of things and (4) a simpler language that all people can learn and communicate with, and so achieve Utopian peace and harmony. Eco tells this story with his usual erudition and intimate knowledge of European cultural history.

For me, most of the story since the Enlightenment was known to me, but prior to that the story was wholly new. There's a whole world of European civilization that I (and I suspect most Americans) have never known, primarily due to the fact that most of us don't read Latin and Italian.

The most negative thing I can say about the book is that, while most of the time foreign language citations are translated, sometimes they are not -- and at crucial places for understanding. I assume this is an oversight, since Eco is so comfortable in so many languages. He probably has difficulty remembering the limitations of us mere intellectual mortals!
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