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t w o Speaking Speaking To / Speaking About Did you say anything? What did you say? You said something to me. Did you say something about something to me? About someone? About me? To me? Did you call me? Greet me? Implore me? Warn me? Insult me? My first encounters with language occurred when others spoke to me: my mother, perhaps the doctor who delivered me, a nurse, my father, sisters, brothers. As a greeting, it welcomed me into the world. They said something about me, while speaking to one another. That touched me only laterally; but in speaking to me, they drew my attention , thus orienting my early life. The world into which I entered is a world of speakers and listeners . Speaking and listening are existentials; no humans exist without them. PAGE 25 25 ................. 15704$ $CH2 01-27-06 11:36:35 PS 26 Thinking Philosophy has analyzed language as an ensemble of propositions, as a structural network of signification, as textuality and contextuality , but rarely has it shown interest in the act of addressing through which a speaker directs words to listeners. A classical formula through which philosophers have sought access to the mysteries of language is ‘‘saying something about something,’’1 but obviously this phrase offers only a restricted view. It is a formula that concentrates on the content of a specific type of expression (the stating or ascertaining one), but pays little or no attention to the role and the circumstances of the speakers who may say something about something (or someone) and the listeners to whom their speaking is directed. No language exists unless it is mobilized by someone who addresses someone else (tis legei tini). The speaker (nominative) and the one to whom the speaker speaks (dative) are the persons through which all language comes to life; they save it from the fossilizing sleep of death. Their role cannot be eliminated by any insistence upon the (quasi-)independence of language, texts, or literature. Heidegger’s famous dictum ‘‘language speaks’’2 is simply not true, although a benevolent reading might defend it as a hyperbolic emphasis on the suggestive and pre-dictive power of inherited sayings, proverbs, fables, myths and stories, theories and literature. It is true that twentieth-century linguistics has extensively studied the contexts and horizons of speech and writing and the various performatives through which users cause changes in others and in themselves, but has the addressing gesture itself—the ‘‘to-’’ or ‘‘towardness,’’ the surprising, challenging, and provoking character of the address—sufficiently been understood? Does addressing fit at all within the framework of issues that we can study, observe, think about, or treat as an object of scientific or philosophical consideration? No language becomes speech unless addressors and addressees appropriate and actualize its possibilities in their speaking and listening , even if—like Sancho Panza—they add to the world nothing PAGE 26 ................. 15704$ $CH2 01-27-06 11:36:35 PS Speaking 27 other than repetitions of commonplaces and proverbs. Even such repetitions are unique insofar as they are appropriated and (re-)addressed to others by unique individuals in unique situations. At the very least, the application of commonplaces to a singular and unique here-and-now shows how they can be used in a new way. We will have to meditate on the relations that bind speaking to the unique lives and circumstances of speakers and hearers later, but for now I will focus on speaking as such, all the while emphasizing the difference between that which people speak about (the ‘‘said,’’ the message or the content) and the addressing through which all saids are communicated . Within speaking itself we must then distinguish between the speaker and the listener, while at the same time realizing that they are typically bound together by the communication of a common issue and a common concern that can be said. You speak to me about something. However, I cannot understand or even hear what you are saying if this event is not preceded by a shared history of speech. Not only have you learned how to speak from other speakers (fathers, mothers, teachers, etc.), but I, the listener , must likewise have been initiated into this history, albeit in a most elementary way. Your message can be minimal, almost nothing —‘‘Hello!’’ or ‘‘Hi,’’ for example, do not confer much content— but even then you affect me, you make contact with me. What mothers say to their babies can be meaningless as far as the...


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