A Marxist Philosophy of Language
Translated by Gregory Elliott
Brill, 2006, 236 pp.
ISBN: 90-04-14751-9 (hbk) 70 [pounds sterling]
In 1977, Raymond Williams's Marxism and Literature noted that 'Marxism has contributed very little to the thinking about language itself'. This omission seems not to have been sufficiently rectified, and is perhaps even more detrimental for Marxism today, given the astronomical increase in the worldwide use of English. David Graddol predicts that, within the next fifteen years, two billion people will be learning English in addition to the billion or so who already have some facility in it. Graddol's study, English Next, commissioned by the British Council, is actually a dire warning that this very 'triumph' of so-called 'global English' could mean an end to the 'English as a foreign language' industry--a substantial sector of the UK'S economy (Graddol, 2006). (1) This is just one indication that the politics of language should concern anyone interested in global capitalism, even merely considering its role in labour supply, let alone its role in the issues of identity, solidarity and language 'standardisation' in the rise--and much-debated fall of, or change in--the nation state.
Jean-Jacques Lecercle understands this well, and sets himself the ambitious task of rectifying the situation. He begins by analysing the shortcomings of what he labels the 'dominant philosophy of language', which includes everyone from Saussure, Chomsky and Habermas to the editors of the Sun newspaper. These three chapters are followed by two chapters on Marxist considerations of language, in the enigmatic order of Stalin, Pasolini, Engels, Marx, Lenin, Voloshinov and Raymond Williams, and ending with a foray into Deleuze and Guattari. All of this creates the background and the elements for the concluding three chapters, in which Lecercle elaborates his 'Marxist' philosophy. Two chapters, Chapters 6 and 7, are used for setting out and discussing six theses that constitute this philosophy of language, and the conclusion provides a glossary of the concepts he has raised and a sort of counter-glossary of the neoliberal concepts that he finds faulty. In short, Lecercle presses the case that all the 'dominant philosophies of language' have in common a methodological individualism that reduces language to a communicative function which is an inherent aspect of capitalist ideology. This needs to be replaced by a Marxist...