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By Lia Formigari

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Subsequently whole tribes adopted their own special A natural history of speech names, in order that their communications might be less ambiguous to each other and more briefly expressed. And as for things not visible, so far as those who were conscious of them tried to introduce any such notion, they put in circulation certain names for them, either sounds which they were instinctively compelled to utter or which they selected by reason or analogy according to the most general cause there can be for expressing oneself in such way.

The madness of “those who have a God within them and are in the grip of divine possession” (V, iii, 14): this is the condition for speaking of God in ‘negative’ theology. Language is thus severed from Being. , the categories, are reduced to the role of accidental units, mere denominations extrinsic to things. Plotinus denies that the same categories are applicable to the objects of the senses and intelligence, thus rejecting Aristotle’s theory of genera and categories as forms immanent to sensibilia as well as the instruments of their intelligibility, which can be adequately expressed in speech.

Eight centuries after Epicurus, the question of the rise of language out of gesture, facial expression, and prosody expressing needs and desire, is dealt with in Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine remembers (or claims to remember) how he learned to talk: It was not that the older people taught me by offering me words by formal institution, as was the case soon afterwards with reading. No, I taught myself, using the mind you gave me, O my God, because I was unable to express the thought of my heart by cries and inarticulate sounds and gestures in such a way as to gain what I wanted or make my entire meaning clear to every one as I wished; so I grasped at words with my memory; when people called an object by some name, and while saying the word pointed to that thing, I watched and remembered that they used that sound when they wanted to indicate that thing.

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