Condillac’s Epistemolinguistic Question

  • James H. Stam
Part of the Studies in Applied Psycholinguistics book series (SAP)


It is arguable, but it makes good sense nonetheless, to say that Etienne Bonnot de Condillac [1715–1780] was the first thinker to give systematic consideration to “the psycholinguistic question,” as that term is characteristically understood today. Perhaps “epistemolinguistic question” would be the more accurate designation. The question entailed is that of the influence or relationship between language (in particular or in general) and an individual’s mental development. It is a significantly different issue from that posed by so many students of universal or rational grammar in the previous century: the relationship between language, “fully grammatical,” and mind, “fully rational”—a formulation of the problem which focused the genesis neither of language nor of rationality. Nor is Condillac’s epistemolinguistic question entirely the same as the problem of the origin of language per se, one of the most popular topics of late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century speculation. Again, it is different from the examination of lögos as both reason and speech among the Stoics and earlier Greek philosophers. The epistemolinguistic issue was, to be sure, adumbrated in context by sundry empiricist philosophers: Hobbes and Locke, for example, assigned an appropriate place to language in the sequence of mental faculties and operations.


Eighteenth Century Human Understanding Linguistic Sign Genetic Epistemology Primitive Language 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • James H. Stam
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionUpsala CollegeEast OrangeUSA

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