Arbitrary, Natural, Other: J. G. Herder and Ideologies of Linguistic Will

Tristram Wolff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article argues for a more sophisticated reading of linguistic naturalism, and a new ecological understanding of language's continuous change, in J. G. Herder's Treatise on the Origin of Language. I make the case that Herder's rejection of linguistic "arbitrariness" (Willkürlichkeit) was part of a broader, characteristically Romantic effort to theorize a different kind of linguistic will, distributed among a group or collective. The article ends by suggesting that ideologies contributing to linguistic nationalism for which he is often held accountable actually embody habits of thought that Herder wrote precisely to unravel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-280
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Romantic Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 3 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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