The Resistant Embrace of Structuralism in 1930s-1970s Linguistics: Benveniste’s Noms d’agent et noms d’action en indo-européen (1948)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

Emile Benveniste’s late work, including his concept of ‘enunciation’, the act of speaking, are sometimes characterised as a rejection of key structuralist tenets. His work of the 1930s was very structuralist in spirit, but in his 1948 book on 'Agent Nouns and Action Nouns in Indo-European' we see him transitioning. He wrote to Hjelmslev at the time: ‘For me, as for you, structural method is linguistic method. You’ll have seen that, in my book, questions of philology and history intervene only insofar as they help to define oppositions of structure’. The book examines two suffixes for forming agent nouns, *-́tor and *-tér. The two types contrasted in ‘their structure, their meaning and their use’, with *-́tor indicating the ‘author’ and *-tér the ‘agent’, the central difference being that the former starts from the action and refers it back to the person who achieved it, whilst the latter is focussed on the person who is destined, able, or in need of a certain activity. There may be a subtext here: the distinction between author and agent can be projected back onto the production of language itself. Structural analysis can be said to take the agentive perspective, the one which ‘tend[s] to abolish individuality in the function which absorbs it and to uniformise it into a class’, rather than the authorial perspective which ‘make[s] the action into a predicate of the author, in whom the action is interiorised’. This distinction foreshadows Benveniste's late conception of enunciation as a counterpoint to language structure.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventThe Making of the Humanities VII - University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 15 Nov 201817 Nov 2018
Conference number: 7

Conference

ConferenceThe Making of the Humanities VII
Country/TerritoryNetherlands
CityAmsterdam
Period15/11/1817/11/18

Keywords

  • history of linguistics
  • structuralism
  • Benveniste
  • enunciation

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'The Resistant Embrace of Structuralism in 1930s-1970s Linguistics: Benveniste’s Noms d’agent et noms d’action en indo-européen (1948)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this