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Horst Steinke


children and those suffering from temporary or permanent

speech impairment


: «Thus the first language […] must have

begun with signs, whether gestures or physical objects»


(§ 401).

And, in a daring theorizing move, Vico turns archaic civiliza-

tion into the “childhood” of human society: «This philological-

philosophical axiom proves to us that in the world’s childhood


Mondo fanciullo



men were by nature sublime poets» (Axiom

XXXVII, § 187). Thus, having argued – standing in a long tradi-

tion from the Renaissance – the originary power of metaphor, he

practiced himself what he advocated. The hallmark of this figura-

tive childhood is its

poetic style, which are vivid representations, images, similes, compari-

sons, metaphors, circumlocutions, phrases explaining things by their

natural properties, descriptions gathered from their minuter or their

more sensible effects, and, finally, emphatic and even superfluous ad-

juncts (§ 456).

Vico goes about methodically, relating literal childhood (and

speech production) to the metaphorical “childhood” that he pos-

tulates as characteristic of people and communities in archaic

times. Point-by-point, he employs psychological-physiological

phenomena heuristically to shed light on the archaic




It is

not the intent here to exhaustively trace the parallels proffered by

Vico, except what appears to be a major aspect of Vico’s heuris-

tics, namely



. Iconicity is the common aspect that char-

acterizes both the very basics of communication, on the one

hand, and the originary cultural effect of language in the archaic

world, on the other hand. Iconicity in the first sense, without

which children would not be able to acquire language ability, is

evidenced by «gestures or physical objects»


and «mutely point-

ing» (§§ 401-402)


. And iconicity, a proclivity for imagery, is al-

so typical of the language of the first civilization(s), as stated in

§ 456


. Iconicity is then precisely the original, and originary,

metaphorical language


, but raised to the level of «imaginative