The Language Myth (1981)

   •Roy Harris

The Language Myth

Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Duckworth, London, 1982
ISBN: 0715616595

Linguistics, the 20th century’s ‘science’ of language, never offered a viable basis for the empirical study of humanity’s many and varied linguistic activities. It served merely to perpetuate an intellectual myth about language which had become embedded in the Western educational tradition. This myth presented a language as fixed verbal code designed to permit the transfer of ‘thoughts’ or ‘ideas’ from one human mind to another. It assumed that this code was known to all members of a linguistic community. But the myth does not stand up to serious scrutiny, as this book shows. The demythologization of linguistics is the first step that must be taken if that discipline is to offer any genuine understanding of our linguistic capacities. They need to be seen as responding to the need to integrate our own activities with those of others.

– ‘an interesting, incisive challenge to assumptions underlying linguistic inquiry and the philosophy of language’: Richard L. Street Jr. in Quarterly Journal of Speech

– ‘provocative and stimulating, and will prompt fruitful debate in an area still made murky by difficult conceptual problems’:
                                                            Michael Dummett in London Review of Books


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© Roy Harris, Emeritus Professor of General Linguistics, Oxford, 2010