The Origin of Speech

by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. Argo, 1981.

Rosenstock-Huessy argues that real speech, speech capable of transforming lives, must be and have always been formal speech, formal speech which can assemble, orient, and send forth strangers to pool their energies to create durable order and remarkable change. Intimate chitchat and everyday common sense, he says, can be nothing more than the residue of once revolutionary formal speech, the “uncommon sense” of political agreements and multi-generational projects.

The Origin of Speech declares that human beings require rituals and tangible signs that they live in an orderly universe over which they possess some control. In the process of exerting power through speech, people invariably create both the past and the future as the locations of society’s hopes and fears. Rosenstock-Huessy points out that the modern mentality has consistently preferred the informal to the formal, the abstract to the ritualistic, and numerical impartiality to personal address, and hence has forfeited the sources of a “grammatically healthy” community.

The Origin of Speech is Rosenstock-Huessy’s longest work on the subject of speech available in English; most of its component parts would also eventually appear in the second volume of Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts.

Argo Books, 2013. Paperback, 160 pages.