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Seeking the essence of language through practical philosophy

Author  :  LI XIANLE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2016-12-27

Philosophical Reconstruction on Essential Theories of Language

Author: Yu Quanyou

Publisher: China Social Sciences Press

Introspection and investigation on the essence of language is an important task and research orientation in the academic community. In the course of its development there have emerged different schools of thoughts. Finding ways to categorize these outcomes can promote clearer understanding of linguistic essence and more deepened research on related disciplines. Philosophical Reconstruction of Essential Theories of Language analyzed several typical theories on the essence of language by investigating related literature from ancient times to the present day, and used basic theories of practical philosophy to reconstruct new essence theory, claiming that language is the phonetic and semantic symbol of human behavior.

In this book, the author Yu Quanyou provided new angles to approach linguistic problems. He placed practice at the core of its concepts and methodology. Adhering to the Marxism practice view, Yu based his theory on the interdependence and links between appearance and essence, form and content, while investigating traditional theories of the essence of language dialectically. For example, one essence theory regards language as simply a tool. In this case, Yu elaborated on the origin, development and formation of this theory, affirming its contributions while particularly criticizing its disadvantages. Yu pointed out that defining language as a “tool” or “a form of communication” fails to reveal and illustrate the unique essence of language: the former is only a metaphorical explanation while the latter is not enough to indicate that language is exclusive to humans. More importantly, the tool theory gives prominence to human’s control on language as a tool, while failing to reveal the impacts of language on humans. In addition, Yu analyzed the importance of practice in language. Practice is foundational to the emergence, development, acquisition and application of language. For example, in terms of the relationship between linguistic practice and application, Yu summarized rules and characteristics of the proper application of language in different contexts. Without a specific context, criteria for linguistic application make no sense.

Also, Yu reconstructed new theories on the essence of language based on deconstruction and criticism of the previous theories. He collected abundant materials and outlined the history of human’s exploration of the essence of language in prelinguistic and linguistic times. This ranged from tales of legend in ancient times, to contemporary generative transformational grammar theories. It included the “disputes between form and contents” in the Spring and Autumn Period to the “Dialogue between philosophy and linguistics” at the end of the 20th century. Based on these, Yu summarized 10 schools of thought on the essence of language among which the tool theory, symbol theory and ontology are the most influential.

Yu reconstructed the hierarchical theory of language essence - the semiotic theory of language practice. He believes that since the essence is hierarchical, then the nature of language is a hierarchical structural unity, which can be observed at bottom, general and specific levels.

Editor: Yu Hui

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