Language as legitimation: The evolution of the signs of space and time
Institutions are linguistic insofar as they are are based upon actors’ knowledge, conscious or unconscious, of certain ‘rules of the game’. These rules denote the linguistic basis for institutional life, which is distinguished from non-institutional life by the entrenchment of habits through language. Indeed, the first language was oriented to the rules of bureaucratic transaction in ancient Sumer. Languages since have similarly been central to the reproduction of institutions in societies, from the qualitative Latin languages to the quantitative languages of calculus and computers; between ‘felt’, tactile space and ‘thought’, abstract time, there lies the balance of linguistic legitimation. Language performs precisely this function, or praxis, of balance: between law and legitimacy, rules and opinions, power and people, numbers and words, and time and space themselves — there lies the balance, or legitimacy, that is to say, acceptability, of language.
[T]he sea and the city share the same space. Mutatis mutandis, my title is offered in the same spirit.Annabel S. Brett, Changes of State, p. 224.
Selwyn College, Cambridge
Sunday, 28 April, 2022