The search for the perfect language

English language

Published Nov. 3, 1995

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La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (The Search for the Perfect Language (the Making of Europe); trans. James Fentress) is a 1993 book by Umberto Eco about attempts to devise an ideal language. The writing is essayistic and uses the myth of Babel as a paradigm for connecting linguistic and social practices. Emphasizing that the quest for a perfect language has never been devoid of ideological motivation, Eco outlines some objections to the idea and suggests that an International Auxiliary Language, such as Esperanto, is a more realistic project. He points out that the impossible quest has had some useful side effects (taxonomy, scientific notations etc.) but dwells mostly on exotic proposals. Lengthy passages are devoted to Dante, Lull, Kircher, various 17th century authors and a few less well-known names from later times. The contemporary project for a politically and culturally unified Europe provides the perspective for a …

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