This short chapter stresses the necessity of understanding what Humboldt meant by Sprache. The term has not been translated in the title to prevent readers from complacently slipping into the habit of according a modern definition to the concept. Linguists invariably distinguish today between langue and parole, the language system and the speech act, but Humboldt held together speech, the specific style of language (such as the language of Shakespeare or Goethe), the language system, and the faculty for language. Failing to understand the complexity of his usage of Sprache will lead some readers to misinterpret Humboldt, or to believe he is contradicting himself, where this is rarely the case. Most modern linguists who quote Humboldt try to fit him into their framework of thinking about language. Because of the richness of his thought and the breadth of his research, Humboldt embraces a much greater variety of questions than most modern linguists envisage.
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