Benveniste and the origins of enunciation

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In the late 1960s Émile Benveniste (1902-1976) projected a linguistics of 'enunciation' that would include both the product of language use and those taking part in the discourse. The received history (Normand 1986, Ono 2007) is that the concept began taking shape in Benveniste’s papers of the late 1940s, though the terms énonciation and énoncé didn’t get a clear definition from him until 1968-9; and that their heritage goes back principally to the use of ‘utterance’ by Malinowski, Bloomfield and Austin. But the terms themselves are absent from Benveniste's work of the late 1940s, though we see them in regular and increasing use by his contemporary Sauvageot. In 1958 Lacan is using the terms in a way akin to Benveniste’s; Arrivé (2007) finds this ‘disturbing’, but concludes that they have ‘an entirely different sense’ in Lacan. He points too to the use of énonciation by Bally and by Damourette & Pichon (cited by Lacan), again dismissing any direct affiliation to Benveniste. Although it is very common to read statements such as ‘Lacan borrows the notion of enunciation from Benveniste’ (Mitelman 2015), Fenoglio (2017) notes that no study has yet been done of what Lacan took from Benveniste, comparable even to Milner’s (2002) brief examination of indications that Benveniste read Lacan, with whom he had a close association in the 1950s. My paper questions the standard view that attributes enunciation to Benveniste as his creation, suggesting instead that it should be considered as the product of a distributed process amongst several interrelated figures.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019
EventHenry Sweet Society of the History of Linguistic Ideas: Annual Colloquium - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sep 20197 Sep 2019


ConferenceHenry Sweet Society of the History of Linguistic Ideas
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Benveniste
  • enunciation
  • history of linguistics


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