On Human Expression

  • Helmuth Plessner
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 103)


We humans are among those beings which can emit sounds, but our repertoire is both much more extensive than that of all other creatures and richer in modulation. Every sound that an animal utters is determined by its species, its specific character, and by the situation in which it finds itself. Now, you may object and say that a mockingbird or parrot merely echoes sounds when hearing them with no regard to a particular situation, but, though frequently interpreted as dissimulation or imitation, even this is no exception to the rule. Every utterance is expressive in the literal sense of the word, expressive; an animal gives vent to its excitement and thus communicates it to its own as well as other kinds of animals, to friends as well as to foes. Consequently, the effect of an utterance is always a manifestation, the function of which varies according to the situation: it may be a luring sound, a warning, a cry of fear, a call to the nest, perhaps even a threat or just showing off. The sound strikes the ear of the animal which hears its own voice. The philosopher Herder found it indispensable to call attention to this fact, for herewith begins vocal articulation. Production seems simultaneously to be the product, production arises as product, production and product are one and the same. For animals, this cyclical process obviously has its distinct limits. Starting by itself, it stimulates others. Through vocal utterance, there is engendered mutual participation.


Distinct Limit Eccentric Position Human Expression Sound Structure Affective Emotion 
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1987

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  • Helmuth Plessner

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