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Fr. 578

October 29, 2014

Is there in fact such a thing as a universal language? Put somewhat differently, can there in principle come to exist a universal language? If we intend by the term “universal language” a language which means everything to everyone, then we can only respond in the affirmative in some limited way. Namely, we might cite the sense of universal according to which proceeds the creation of shared or common meaning. Indeed, this universal language exists both in fact and in principle: in fact, insofar as the language between individuals possesses shared or common meaning; in principle, insofar as individuals come to craft a shared language or endow previously insignificant objects with some common meaning. In the propagation of new terms, we see such a process daily.

But given that creating shared or common meaning is always limited in scope in some way or other, the creation of universal meaning in this sense is, in fact, always an affair of the particular. As to the propagation of new terms, we should note that these terms are first the property of some group as opposed to some other group, e.g. the young and old, the in-the-know and the out-of-the-know, etc. More generally, we might remark that shared or common meaning can only ever come to exist between individuals. Accordingly, the existence of universal language in our sense is never a given and must be endlessly renewed by all who are party to it.

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