Language and Thought Essay

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Language and Thought (1953) Susanne K. Langer Susanne K. Langer was born in New York City in 1895 and attended Radcliffe College. There she studied philosophy, an interest she maintained until her death in 1985. She stayed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a tutor at Harvard University from 1927 to 1942. Langer then taught at the University of Delaware, Columbia University, and Connecticut College, where she remained from 1954 until the end of her distinguished teaching career. Her books include Philosophy in a New Key: A Study of the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942), Feeling and Form (1953), and Mind: An Essay in Human Feeling (1967). In the following essay, which originally appeared in Ms. Magazine, Langer explores how language separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. She contends that the use of symbols – in addition to the use of signs that animals also use – frees humans not only to react to their environment but also to think about it. Moreover, symbols allow us to create imagery and ideas not directly related to the real world, so that we can plan, imagine, and communicate abstractions – to do, in essence, the things that make us human. 1 gesticulate the point. He would make his wishes known, give warnings, perhaps develop a social system like that of bees and ants, with such a wonderful efficiency of communal enterprise that all men would have plenty to eat, warm apartments – all exactly alike and perfectly convenient – to live in, and everybody could and would sit in the sun or by the fire, as the climate demanded, not talking but just basking, with every want satisfied, most of his life. The young would romp and make love, the old would sleep, the middle-aged would do the routine work almost unconsciously and eat a great deal. But that would be the life of a social, superintelligent, purely sign-using animal. 5 To us who are
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