Carly Martin, Ph.D. candidate in Germanic Languages and Literatures (advisor May Mergenthaler) and Graduate Consultant at UCAT (University Center for the Advancement of Teaching) has presented her research at the annual convention of the German Studies Association in Pittsburgh, Sept. 27-30, 2018. Her well-received paper was included in a panel entitled "Continuing the Critique of Language," which explored the history and present of efforts to create a better, or even ideal language.
In politics and social media, we are witnessing an increase in hurtful language, often directed against so-called politically correct speech, seen as oppressive. By contrast, in mainstream public and academic discourse, politically correct speech and the critique of violent language are the norm. Furthermore, there are demands in academia and beyond for alternatives to the critical, “suspicious” mode, and for more immediate, sensuous experiences and linguistic expressions.
In her presentation, Carly Martin discussed how Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) considers the German language of his time to be in decay and domineered by foreign influences. He believes that language has a natural life-cycle, moving from poetry (youth) to prose (adulthood), and ending in philosophy (old age). Yet, Herder also regards language as both shaping and being shaped by humans and history, and thus as having a biography. Martin reconstructs Herder’s biography of language, whose life cycle, Herder believes, must be halted and brought to a prosaic state of balance between sensuous poetry and intellectual philosophy.