The reception of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s linguistic writings in the Anglosphere, 1820 to the present

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Abstract

Humboldt has had a complex reception in the English-speaking world. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis rhetorical structure he inherited from Fichte has contributed to misunderstanding of his views. In the later 19th century he was depicted as an evolutionist, including by his prominent American disciple Brinton. His thought helped to shape 20th-century anthropology in the USA through the work of Boas, who however cited him only once, and it had an impact on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, though how much of one is debated. If Noam Chomsky’s claim to be his intellectual heir is dubious, Humboldt’s shadow looms over current work on embodied language, and is central to Charles Taylor’s recent attempt to redirect the Anglophone philosophical tradition toward a conception of man as ‘the language animal’.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercqw080
Pages (from-to)7-20
Number of pages14
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Volume53
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2017

Keywords

  • Wilhelm von Humboldt
  • history of linguistics
  • history of anthropology
  • embodied language
  • language and culture
  • Franz Boas
  • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Anna Wierzbicka
  • Charles Taylor

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