On Friday 29 December 2017, at about 5 pm, my wife came to me and asked me to have a look at an article published in the French newspaper LE FIGARO (1) that she had come across that day: the paper was about the language, and she was sure it would be of interest to me!

It was, indeed, so interesting that I have decided to quote part of it here – I hope that LE FIGARO will not be offended of me quoting their article, as I did not ask for their permission, and I am very grateful for them to let me do so.

I thought that the words of Tom Wolfe reported in the article were a good start into the New Year, and that they would constitute a key contribution to my “LAFONian project”.

The article published in LE FIGARO is an interview of the writer Tom Wolfe about his new book entitled ‘The kingdom of speech’ (“Le règne du language” in French, published in France by Robert Laffont Publishing, as part of the ‘Pavillons’ collection).

LE FIGARO: In your last book, The Kingdom of Speech, you explain that speech is what makes the uniqueness of human beings. How is that?

Tom Wolfe: There is a fundamental distinction between animals and human beings, a demarcation line as steep and immutable as a geological fault: the speech! The language provided the “human beast” with a tool that is much more than a mean to communicate. It is actually an innovation just as important as the elaboration of the atomic bomb! Speech was the very first invention, the first artefact, the first time when one kind of creatures living on Earth, i.e. human beings, turned elements from Mother Nature – the sounds – into something totally new and solely designed by them, strings of sonorities assembled into codes that were lately named “words”.

Not only is speech a tool, but it is the very first one of all, the one that made the elaboration of all others possible, from the most rudimentary pickaxe to the sledgehammer, the wheel and so on up to our current spatial shuttles. Without speech, there is no dance, no music, not even the slightest humming of a ritornello, no drum beat, no rhythm of any kind and thus, no hand-clapping.

In a nutshell, speech – and speech only – provided the “human beast” with the strength to conquer every single inch of land on the planet, and to eat and stuff its face with half the resources of the ocean. Still, this meticulous control of the planet’s surface is just a minor consequence of the power of speech: its major achievement being the elaboration of the ego and the rise of self-consciousness. Only speech can allow human beings to question their own existence, to decide whether they should go on with it or terminate it.

No animal can think of suicide, or of the large-scale extermination of its peers. Only speech makes it possible for the humanity to run a self-reflection, and to turn the planet into a hell within thirty to fourty minutes of nuclear reaction.


(1) The article published in LE FIGARO newspaper can be found here:

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