Document Type


Date of Award



Etienne Bonnot de Condillac (1714-1780), Criticism and interpretation, Language and languages, Philosophy

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Romance Languages and Literatures

First Advisor

Giovanni Gullace

Second Advisor

Sandro Sticca

Third Advisor

Jacqueline VanBaelen


The dissertation aims at studying the theory of language in Condillac’s work. Taking into account that Condillac approaches the problem of language from a grammatical, an aesthetic and a metaphysical viewpoint, the dissertation is divided into three main parts.

The first part, which follows an introductory study of the Port-Royal Grammar, focuses on Condillac’s Grammaire (1775), a work in which the author envisages the problem of language as a grammarian. The relationship between language and thought, one of the main interests of present-day psycholinguistics, represents the focal point of this part.

The second part concentrates on De l'art d'écrire (1775), a stylistic treatise, in which Condillac speaks as an aesthetician on language. One of Condillac’s preoccupations is the question of whether the problems of style can be solved by an objectively established principle or whether style is a matter of taste.

The third part is based mainly on the Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (1746). Condillac’s speculation on problems of an anthropological nature, such as the origin and the evolution of language, is the main topic.

In conclusion, the most noticeable result of the dissertation demonstrates how Condillac—by virtue of his original approach—anticipates a great number of ideas which are now at the center of philosophical and linguistic inquiry. Notwithstanding the rather fragmentary character of his theory, Condillac can be considered in many respects as a forerunner, obviously neglected until now, of such linguistic theorists as Wittgenstein and Chomsky.