Herder: On Pain and the Origin of Language

Ilit Ferber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reexamines J. G. Herder's Treatise on the Origin of Language (1772) and, specifically, the relationship it proffers between pain and the origin of language. Through a close reading of the first part of the treatise, it asks in what sense does Herder's conception of emotion and feeling, particularly pain, as the unremitting source of thought and language-rather than in the instance of their alleged separation from its natural origin-represent the precise moment of the origin of human language. The article argues that for Herder, the birth of human language does not coincide with logos or rationality overcoming subjectivity or physicality, but, rather, a moment of their intimate connectivity. It thus shows that through his use of the term Besonnenheit, Herder preserves this interdependence also at the stage in which language parts from its natural source and becomes distinctly human.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-223
Number of pages19
JournalThe Germanic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2010


  • J. G. Herder
  • animal
  • empathy
  • expression
  • language
  • origin of language
  • pain


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