Pointing the Way to Speech: A Phenomenological Approach to Language

Hayden Sean Alexander Kee, Fordham University


In this work, I lay the foundation for a phenomenological philosophy of language. I take up an old question from philosophy of mind and language, namely, the question of the relationship between linguistic intentionality and the more basic modes of intentionality that support it (such as action, perception, emotion, and pre-linguistic communication). Through an imminent critique of existing approaches to this issue, I argue for a genetic-phenomenological method that attends to the conscious processes through which language is formed (Chapter 1). In order to understand such conscious underpinnings of our linguistic ability, however, we must return to the early development and acquisition of language in the first years of life through a phenomenological interpretation of developmental psychology (Chapter 2). I further develop the conceptual tools required for such an investigation through a careful reconstruction of the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty’s ideas concerning the relationship between active, constructive dimensions of speech and expression, and the passive, acquired dimensions (Chapter 3). I employ the methods and concepts developed in Chapter 1-3 to advance a phenomenological interpretation of language acquisition, focusing on the grounding of our language faculty in perception, action, gesture, and pre-linguistic communication in the first years of life, with special attention to the acquisition of the pointing gesture and the first words (Chapter 4). On the basis of the preceding investigations, I develop a general account of speech perception integrating insights from phenomenology and neuro- and behavioral- linguistics (Chapter 5). This account allows us better to understand the continuity between higher and lower modes of cognition, thus responding to a problem in contemporary embodied cognitive science. I conclude with some further remarks on method and some global remarks concerning the nature of language. To understand language, we must view it as a product of the conscious experiences through which it is taken up and developed, including the distinctively developmental temporality of the language experience, its essentially intersubjective character, and its entanglement with various other non-linguistic domains of experience.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Developmental psychology|Psychobiology|Linguistics|Physiological psychology

Recommended Citation

Kee, Hayden Sean Alexander, "Pointing the Way to Speech: A Phenomenological Approach to Language" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27743603.