Phenomenology and Ontology of Language and Expression: Merleau-Ponty on Speaking and Spoken Speech

Human Studies 41 (3):415-435 (2018)
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Abstract
This paper clarifies Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between speaking and spoken speech, and the relation between the two, in his Phenomenology of Perception. Against a common interpretation, I argue on exegetical and philosophical grounds that the distinction should not be understood as one between two kinds of speech, but rather between two internally related dimensions present in all speech. This suggests an interdependence between speaking and spoken aspects of speech, and some commentators have critiqued Merleau-Ponty for claiming a priority of speaking over spoken speech. However, there is a sense in which Merleau-Ponty is right to emphasize the priority, namely, in terms of the ontological priority of the speaking subject with respect to language understood as a constituted cultural ideality. The latter only maintains its ontological status insofar as it is taken up by a language community. I favorably contrast Merleau-Ponty’s views on this question to those of the late Heidegger and de Saussure, and suggest potential applications of this clarified position for contemporary discussions in philosophy of language.
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