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Artful ExperimentsWays of Knowing in Victorian Literature and Science$
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Philipp Erchinger

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474438957

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474438957.001.0001

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Speech in Action: Victorian Philology and the Uprooting of Language

Speech in Action: Victorian Philology and the Uprooting of Language

(p.139) Chapter 5 Speech in Action: Victorian Philology and the Uprooting of Language
Artful Experiments

Philipp Erchinger

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter is concerned with the use of language, the common medium through which both literary and scientific texts come into the social world. Charting key points of contest in the Victorian debate about the origin and evolution of human speech, the chapter focuses on the contributions of F. Max Müller and Edward B. Tylor in particular. It argues that, in Müller’s work, the very attempt to demonstrate that there is a quasi-divine reason at the “root” of each word makes the writing develop a poetical logic and, as a consequence, outgrow its own theoretical foundation. In this way, Müller’s lectures intimate, even though they do not say it, that the logic of language inheres in the multiple ways in which it is used, rather than dwelling in a place or “root” outside of them. As a result, Müller’s work not only enacts its own theory about the creative power of metaphor; it also aligns itself, unwittingly, with the philosophy of Edward B. Tylor whose attempts to reconcile the ideal meaning of words with the material practice of gesturing and drawing seem otherwise to deviate sharply from Müller’s approach.

Keywords:   science of language, origin of language, Victorian philology, human speech, F. Max Müller, Eward B. Tylor, metaphor, gesture-language

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