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Romantic Etymology and Language Ecology

  • Author(s): Wolff, Tristram
  • Advisor(s): Francois, Anne-Lise
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation brings to light an etymological poetics in European and American Romanticism, through natural figures of temporal process that changed language's shape. I argue that the supposed "primitivism" of theories that root language in nature can often be better understood as efforts to model a simultaneous solidity and liquidity in language's forms, using metaphors borrowed from natural history. These theories react against arbitrary or conventional Lockean "signs" and the rational agents who invent them, while at the same time avoiding the stability of traditional "naturalisms," such as Cratylic or Adamic myths of naming. By demonstrating the ethical insufficiency of words alienated from their disorderly contexts, the practice of "Romantic etymology" reconstructs not derivations of individual words, but linguistic philosophy itself.

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