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The Search for the Perfect Language
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About the Author

Umberto Eco was born in Alessandria in 1932 and has been Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna since 1975 and President of the International Centre for Semiotic and Cognitive Studies since 1988. His books include `The Name of the Rose' (1980) and Foucault's Pendulum' (1988). His most recent works include `Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language' (1984), `The Limits of Interpretation' (1990), `Apocalyspe Postponed' (1994) and `The Island of the Day Before' (1995).

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Before the bewildering Babel of tongues described in Genesis, humanity had just one perfect language, originating in the Garden of Eden, or so theologians and philosophers believed from the early Dark Ages to the Renaissance. In this erudite study, which will be heavy going for most readers, famed Italian novelist and linguist Eco mines a wealth of esoteric lore as he investigates a neglected chapter in the history of ideas. He begins with Dante's proposal for a universal vernacular in place of Latin, and Catalan friar Raymond Lull's combinatorial system of letters and symbols designed to explore metaphysical connections. He goes on to examine the Kabbalistic search for hidden messages in sacred Hebrew texts, the Rosicrucian society's symbolic writing in 17th-century Germany and French Enlightenment thinkers' invention of philosophical languages organized around fundamental categories of knowledge. He also surveys the search for a primordial language assumed by Augustine to be Hebrew and by later mother tongue-seekers to be Aramaic or various other languages. (Sept.)

The myth of primordial language in which the word corresponds to being, or the dream of a universal language, has long fascinated thinkers. In this provocative history of ideas, noted Italian linguist and semiologist Eco (The Island of the Day Before, LJ 7/95) traces the quest for a perfect language. For Eco, this quest informs the myth of Adam, Cabalism, Enlightenment theories of classification and the encyclopedias, the search for Indo-European universal grammars, as well as the development of International Auxiliary Languages. He also includes illuminating chapters on Dante, Raymond Lull, Francis Lodwick, and others. Eco's complex yet lucid account of the nature of language is the most stimulating since George Steiner's After Babel (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1975). For academic libraries.-T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.

"This is as much a history of the study of language and its origins as it is a" tour de force" pursuit using scholarly detection and cultural interpretation, thus providing a series of original perspectives on two thousand years of European history." " The Medieval Review"

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