Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language


Jan 4, 2008
6 x 9 in.
Buy This

Just as speech can be acquired, so can it be lost. Individuals can forget words, phrases, even entire languages, and over the course of time speaking communities, too, let go of the tongues that were once theirs, as languages grow obsolescent and give way to others. In Echolalias, Daniel Heller-Roazen reflects on the many forms of linguistic forgetfulness.

In twenty-one concise chapters, he moves among classical, medieval, and modern culture, exploring the interrelations of speech, writing, memory, and oblivion. Whether the subject is medieval literature or modern fiction, classical Arabic poetry or the birth of French language, structuralist linguistics or Freud’s writings on aphasia, Heller-Roazen considers with precision and insight the forms, effects, and ultimate consequences of the persistence and disappearance of language.

In speech, he argues, destruction and construction often prove inseparable. Among speaking communities, the vanishing of one language can mark the emergence of another, and among individuals, the experience of the passing of speech can lie at the origin of literary, philosophical, and artistic creation.

From the infant’s prattle to the legacy of Babel, from the holy tongues of Judaism and Islam to the concept of the dead language and the political significance of exiled and endangered languages today, Echolalias traces an elegant, erudite, and original philosophical itinerary, inviting us to reflect in a new way on the nature of the speaking animal who forgets.