André Martinet/3 – How to describe a language

Pubblicato: 14 marzo 2013 in comunicazione
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Conversazione con André Martinet
André Martinet/1 Communication is our basic relevancy
André Martinet/2 Language articulates what we feel into a succession of items

We have defined the notion of language and we have talked about your approach to languages, that is, about the double articulation. Can you apply this method to all languages, dead ones included?
Yes. We just have to forget a number of things in well known languages, because everything is mixed-up in our mind about culture, literature. It is very important to come to the literature of the language at a certain point, but to start, we must forget about it or we retain from it the tools, our corpuses for example. We may use the corpus which is a corpus of a written language, Molière or Dante, etc. . It is different. But we have to forget about that, and principally we have to apply the same methods whether they be dialects, local dialects, or standard languages, or languages spoken in New Guinea or somewhere far-away, where people have never seen a written form of the language.
So, basically, it is the same. We should try to apply a method which will finally yield comparable results. For example, in France people who want to give a phonological description of a language usually use my small handbook called La description phonologique. It is the phonological analysis of my mother’s dialect. I am from Savoy and my mother as a child spoke the local so-called francoprovençal, a romance dialect of our language. No French man can understand a word of that. It sounds like Italian, in a way. You have a stress. Woman, for example, is fanna (femina). It sounds far more like Italian than French. Anyway, the book has been used as a model by practically all my students and by a number of other people as well.
Well, I think that is understood, but of course you are right to ask that question because the question arises: you may say the approach to different languages is not necessarily the same, because in German, for example… how would you go about describing German?
If I had to describe German to Italian people…
Wait a minute, you say to Italian people: that’s important. You have two possibilities: you describe the language to scientists, to us: we are scientists, whether we are Italian, French, German, you describe it scientifically, and then, later on, you take into consideration your Italian public.
When presenting German, for example, to my Italian readers, I will have to stress a number of things which they don’t know in Italian.
There are two different levels: you have the level of scientific description, which is not meant for Italian readers. You may write in Italian, but it is meant for general readers, people of all languages and cultures.
And then, of course, at a certain point you have another stage of your research: you have to think of your public, your new public, that is the Italian public, on this or that level, elementary school level, etc. . Those are different problems: describing the language to different people.
And what is the difference in the description?
You have to take into consideration your public: what are the prejudices of your public? You have to reckon with that.
A prejudice is the existence of a phonemic pattern in Italian, of a grammatical pattern of Italian, which is not the same as the German one, etc..
You have to stress certain facts which the others will not understand. Take for example the Umlaut in a plan describing German to Italian people.
Before you tackle your first articulation units, your monemes, you have to explain to your Italian people that they are going to be faced with a problem of morphology in German: there would be words whose form changes from one use, one context, to another and according to a certain rule, which is recurrent, which they’d better learn in advance.


  1. segmenti ha detto:

    […] André Martinet/3 Pregiudizi linguistici […]

  2. […] André Martinet/3 Pregiudizi linguistici […]

  3. […] André Martinet/3 Pregiudizi linguistici […]

  4. […] André Martinet/3 Pregiudizi linguistici […]


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