Forwarded from Nestor (language)

Ed George edgeorge at
Thu Dec 12 06:24:01 MST 2002

I know Néstor is more than capable of doing this himself but (especially
since we might not agree!) here are my thoughts.

Regarding the first question, what Marx says in this footnote in Capital
is this:

'"The natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to supply the
necessities, or serve the conveniences of human life." (John Locke,
"Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest,
1691L," in Works Edit. Lond., 1777, Vol. II., p. 28.)  In English
writers of the 17th century we frequently find "worth" in the sense of
value in use, and "value" in the sense of exchange-value.  This is quite
in accordance with the spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic
word for the actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion.'

(This from the Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling translation, which can be
found on the MIA site, the reference for this page being

How true this is I don't know: if there are any studies of this
phenomenon easily available I would be interested in knowing about
them.  But anyway, this is what Néstor means by '"direct" and "indirect"
object'.  In grammar, however, the concepts of direct and indirect
object have a different function.  If you want me to explain more I can.

As to the second question. I think that what Néstor is referring to by
'linguistic precedence' is Saussure's idea that 'Language does have an
oral tradition that is independent of writing', which is his way of
saying that what exists in written language has to be first tested in
spoken language: that the spoken form of language is fundamental and the
written form follows.  This priority of spoken over written language is
today generally accepted within modern linguistics, and is clearly an
observable historical fact, although to what degree it holds true in
such an absolute sense today in modern print-dominated cultures I'm not
sure: I think here we need to maintain a distinction between the process
of coming-into-being and development and the operation of language in
'emerged' form, between, to use Saussure's vocabulary, between the
diachronic and the synchronic (in much the same way that Marx in Capital
urges such a necessary methodological distinction between emergent and
mature capitalist accumulation).  Nevertheless, what worries Néstor here
I think is the idea that one can judge a language's 'superiority' over
another by the existence of it in written form: this would be clearly
false, I agree - what the study of written forms would tell us is not
the 'state' of the language but the state of the social (broadly
understood) and political conditions of development in which it is

But then Néstor too can speak for himself ...

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