"On Language: On the Diversity of Human Language Construction and its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species" (1836):

This is an entirely new translation of one of the fundamental works in the development of the study of language. Published in 1836, it formed the general introduction to Wilhelm von Humboldt's three-volume treatise on the Kawi language of Java. It is the final statement of his lifelong study of the nature of language, and presents a survey of a great many languages, exploring ways in which their various grammatical structures make them more or less suitable as vehicles of thought and cultural development. Empirically wide-ranging - von Humboldt goes far beyond the Indo-European family of languages - it remains one of the most interesting and important attempts to draw philosophical conclusions from comparative linguistics.

  Published posthumously, this book is Humboldt's key contribution to the philosophy of language. He explores the idea that language shapes thought and culture, and that the diversity of languages reflects the diversity of human mentalities. His ideas in this work laid the groundwork for what later would become the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.


About the Author:

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was a Prussian philosopher, linguist, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin. He is especially renowned for his work on the philosophy of language and his theory of education, which has had a significant influence on the education systems of various countries.

Key Works by Humboldt:

  1. "The Limits of State Action" (1792):

    • This book is considered one of Humboldt's major works, where he argues for the role of the state to be minimal and only involved in ensuring security and freedom of its citizens. He emphasizes individual freedom and the development of individual capacities as a central goal of society.
  2. "Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen" (The Limits of State Effectiveness):

    • In this work, Humboldt explores the functions and limits of state action, advocating for the protection of individual liberties and the importance of personal development free from state intervention.
  3. Various Educational and Linguistic Essays:

    • Humboldt wrote extensively on education, advocating for a holistic approach that focused on the development of individual capacities and moral character. His ideas influenced the educational reforms in Prussia and beyond.
  4. Correspondence and Diplomatic Writings:

    • As a diplomat, Humboldt's correspondence and writings reflect his political and philosophical ideas, and they offer insights into the intellectual and political landscape of his time.

Humboldt's works often intertwine philosophical, linguistic, and educational themes, reflecting his holistic view of human development. His influence extends beyond these fields into areas like cultural studies and anthropology, given his interest in the diversity of cultures and languages. His ideas on language, in particular, were groundbreaking, suggesting that language is not just a tool for communication but a fundamental shaper of thought and cultural identity.