I see this concept or idea mentioned in few essays. Afaiu - the end of language - the limit of language - death of meaning - ....

But what does it mean - abstractly and/or practically?

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    You can see Postmodernism with ref to Lyotard and the ‘loss of meaning’ and Jean-François Lyotard. Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 11:17
  • Thanks for the comment. The texts from the links of you provided deals with this subject, but somehow they use really "grand" language and vague vague-isms, i like this one "the theory depends upon a play on words", etc. I am somehow betaken buy this, but I am looking for a more concise explanations. Or are we forever stuck in an infinite recursive loop - trying to forever explain all the fine nuances of ever changing postmodern condition. By the the time we understand what happened yesterday, it is already too late and useless for tomorrow. And so on, and so on , as Zizek would say :) Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 15:19
  • This seems quite broad, can you narrow down the scope some? Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 19:21

1 Answer 1


One option is that under structuralism, where language is reducible to a formal system, language is 'dead'. From Paul Ricoeur:

    1. I wish to show that the type of intelligibility that is expressed in structuralism prevails in every case in which one can: (a) work on a corpus already constituted, finished, closed, and in that sense, dead; (b) establish inventories of elements and units; (c) place these elements or units in relations of opposition, preferably binary opposition; and (d) establish an algebra or combinatory system of these elements and opposed pairs.
     The aspect of language which lends itself to this inventory I will designate a language [langue]; the inventories and combinations which this language yields I will term taxonomies; and the model which governs the investigation I will call semiotics.
     2. I next wish to show that the very success of this undertaking entails (as a counterpart) an elimination from structural thinking of any understanding of the acts, operations, and processes that constitute discourse. Structuralism leads to thinking in an antinomic way about the relation between language and speech. I will make the sentence or utterance [énoncé] the pivot of this second investigation. I will call semantics the model which governs our understanding of the sentence. (Conflict of Interpretations, 79)

Here are the two forms of 'deadness':

  1. Language does not 'grow' to encompass anything new. It is fixed, unchanging as a rock.
  2. Language no longer connects to reality in any systematic way.

The paradox is that 1. was supposed to lead to the opposite of 2. It was supposed to be possible to bring everything under a single system in an objective way which would remove all needs for that messy thing called 'interpretation'.

For a very different perspective of what language could be, I turn to David Braine:

     A right account of language is, I believe, the key to a right account of the nature of human understanding and thought, and thereby the key to a right understanding of human nature as a whole. Yet the whole theory of language is in considerable disorder, and my aim must therefore be first to seek to remedy this. This will take me into the heart of current debates in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology, and lead me to undertake an extended study of grammar. The effect will be to show how language exhibits the ultimate freedom of the human intellect and will from conformity with mechanically applicable rules and from limitations set by neurology. The brain plays a key role in the normal functioning of the human mind, but does not determine or shape linguistic understanding and thinking in the medium of words, as this develops through adaptation to and learning within a social external environment of other speakers and hearers, all within a setting of natural things. Such understanding and thinking have to be considered the activities not of brains or minds, but of human beings as such. In effect, the animal becomes intellectual in nature as soon as the brain reaches such malleability in its modes of functioning as to set no restrictions on the animal or person's intellectual operation, allowing autonomy to the mind's operation. (Language and Human Understanding, 1)

That crucial step of malleability and freedom is antithetical to structuralism.

  • Thanks for your input! I will have to read more of this further. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 15:01

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