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The Purloined Tongue

The Letter, Issue 4, Summer 1995, Pages 44 - 58


Claus-Dieter Rath

It is remarkable at an international psychoanalytic congress to have to opt for English or French and not be able to use the language of Freud. Something has happened to the language of Freud through which he saw another language - lalangue. The formulation of psychoanalysis by Freud drew not only from German - from which Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt in his book Quand Freud voit la mer. Freud et la langue allemande starts off - but also influenced the german language. It brought new elements (word usage, vocabulary) into the langue and also changed the language as a means of elaboration of the knowledge of lalangue.

When one speaks of Sprache , 'language' in German, one refers not only to language (langage) but also to tongue (langue). Only in selective speech is the word Zunge used for Sprache (tongue, langue), as one might say, a 'strange human tongue'. Almost exclusively what one means by tongue is that slippery organ of touch and taste, one of the objects of gratification of the sucking child, and at the same time the organ of the production of sounds - think of the problem of the English 'th' sound, or the rolling 'r'. Still German idioms consider the tongue the place from where speech issues, - the representative of a threshold or barrier which the Word must overcome but which, at times, it fails to do when, for example, a word leads to a repelling image: 'he has his heart on his tongue'; 'I cannot bring it over my tongue"; 'the word sits on the tongue'; 'control your tongue'; and 'he's burnt his tongue'.[1]

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