Criticism | September 01, 1978

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Man, we are fond of saying, can be defined as a language-using being; perhaps it would be more to the point to note that language is man-using.  For man does not really have a choice in the matter.  Language is his defining characteristic, or perhaps his most contagious symptom; his subjection to it is pandemic, irresistible, and almost lifelong.  It gets inside us; but we have not penetrated it to our satisfaction; we feel we are not privy to its secrets.  So we might say that speech acquires man, unless prevented by severe defect or freakish nurturing, as in the case of children raised by wild animals.  Walker Percy, musing on similar thoughts, frames the following questions:

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