My Language Which Is Not My Own

Southwest Philosophy Review 32 (2):115-136 (2016)
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Abstract

Language is often conceived of today as providing a person with a worldview and a set of communicative norms that one accepts unambiguously. However, in his 1992 lecture, “Monolingualism of the Other,” Jacques Derrida insists that his mother tongue is for him “not a natural element, not the transparency of the ether, but an absolute habitat.” In other words, while French is an intimate part of his existence, his relationship to it is nevertheless ambiguous. Derrida claims that his situation is not exceptional though, since for no person is language simply a “natural element.” In this essay, I examine first the phenomenological basis for this controversial claim, drawing from Derrida’s lecture as well as earlier explorations by Martin Heidegger to elucidate the point. Later I turn to address the ethical-political dimensions of Derrida’s claim, explaining how it serves to protest against a problematic process of consolidating power.

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Carolyn Culbertson
Florida Gulf Coast University

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