Idioms and Idiotisms: Theodore Thass-Thienemann’s The Interpretation of Language and Spectral Inheritance

György Fogarasi


The late work of the Hungarian émigré linguist and comparatist, Theodore Thass-Thienemann, presents a challenging combination of psychoanalytic discourse and the historical study of languages. His two-volume book entitled The Interpretation of Language (1973) sets out to complement the Freudian analysis of dream images and bodily symptoms via an investigation into the symbolism of ordinary verbal expressions as they appear in the languages of Indo-European cultures. His attention to the unconsciously inherited dimensions of particular idioms opens a path to the linguistic archeology of the human mind and a rethinking of the very notion of “idiom” in terms of “idiotism.” After providing a brief overview of the life and late works of Thass-Thienemann, this study offers a comprehensive analysis of his book. In the final analysis, Thass-Thienemann appears as the provocative thinker of a spectral inheritance, from which even his own discourse is not exempt.


Psychoanalysis; language; symbolism; idiom; spectrality; animality

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