This article explores the so-far uncharted filiation of Leopardi’s understanding of language from Locke’s linguistic theory outlined in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In following Kristeva’s belief that language theories are predicated upon theories of the subject and Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on the communicative power of the body, the article looks at the reverberations that Leopardi’s teoria del piacere (understood as an anthropological system) exerts on his theory of language and builds a neck-to-neck comparison with Locke’s linguistic functionalism. In underlining Locke’s important role for Leopardi’s theory of language, this work shows how the latter distances himself from the functionalism of Locke’s Essay by theorizing a language built on semantic vagueness and indefiniteness. This language is based on the epistemological conviction that ideas do not exist as immaterial products of the mind but rather are always incarnate in the physicality of language. In defining this kind of language as analogical, the article argues that for Leopardi the linguistic act takes the shape of a bodily gesture: language, then, is not just the concrete translation of a mental process but the movement of an embodied mind. In this sense, rather than expressing the mathematical coincidence of signifier and signified of a langue des calculs, Leopardi’s language voices the leftovers of expression, the semantic excess that Locke’s functionalism generally considers to be an error of an unsuccessful communicative act.

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