Friday, March 30, 2012

Steiner on Language

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 4:00 PM

March 28 review in the Times Literary Supplement  of
George Steiner's new book The Poetry of Thought

"If this new book opens with the concession that
language has neither the performative power of music
nor the elegant precision of mathematics,
it is language, for Steiner, that defines the human.

The survey accordingly begins from the ancient Greek
view of man as the 'language-animal.'" 

A check of this phrase yields, in a 1969 Steiner essay,
"The Language Animal," a Greek form of the phrase—

In short, the least inadequate definition we can arrive at
of the genus homo , the definition that fully distinguishes
him from all neighbouring life-forms, is this:
man is a zoon phonanta , a language-animal.

— p. 10 in Encounter , August 1969 (essay on pp. 7-23)

After introducing "language-animal" as a translation of  "zoon phonanta " in 1969,
Steiner in later writing went on to attribute this phrase to the ancient Greeks.

 "The inception of critical thought, of a philosophic anthropology, 
is contained in the archaic Greek definition of man as a

— George Steiner, Real Presences , U. of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 89

"… the 'language-animal' we have been since ancient Greece
so designated us…. "

— George Steiner, Grammars of Creation , Yale U. Press, 2002, p. 265

Despite this, there seems to be no evidence for use of this phrase
by the ancient Greeks.

A Google search today for zoon phonanta  (ζῷον φωνᾶντα)—

There are also no results from searches for the similar phrases
"ζωον φωναντα," "ζωον φωνᾶντα," and "ζῷον φωναντα."

1 Comment

  1. Classic Steiner.
    Those full-run archives of Encounter, &c., at Unz,org are amazing.

    Comment by Scott Lahti — Wednesday, April 4, 2012 @ 11:00 PM

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