Sophie Salvo, University of Chicago


Gendered Origins: Man, Woman, and the Philosophy of Language, Sophie Salvo, University of Chicago

In the eighteenth century, philosophers imagine the origin of language by proposing conjectural narratives that employ male and female characters. Beginning around 1800, however, the cast of characters becomes noticeably male. Why do women disappear? Focusing on texts by Herder, Fichte, and Wilhelm von Humboldt, this paper argues that once human and animal language are conceptualized in terms of a binary rather than a continuum, woman’s relationship to language becomes a problem. At stake in the character construction of these theories is a question of representation: what constitutes the human, and who may stand in as example?