André Martinet/ 4 – Choosing words

Pubblicato: 16 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

André Martinet/3 How to describe a language

One of the aspects of your work which fascinated me was the limpid exposition and your rejection of symbolism and neologism. This, in a context of linguistic studies based on the creation of complex metalanguages. Could you explain me the reasons for this methodological decision?
When I write I always think of the target public. I say: I want to communicate with that public and I will try to use the language which will be acceptable to that public, of course without betraying my ideals.
I try to adapt the language I use to my public. I do create a metalanguage to some extent, I have to do it, but I’m very careful about defining the words I use. They are very often the same words used by other people, but I define them more accurately as a rule.
It’s always very difficult to be clear all the time, but…
For example, this business about the choice of the moneme, it’s not too clear in Eléments de linguistique générale. You have probably read the Italian version, which was translated from the first edition of the book. Now, in 1980 a new edition appeared, which was modified in many respects and particularly on the point presenting the moneme. In the first version I was not too sure about what to do about it in France: whether I should have kept the word morpheme, which was used in reference to grammatical matters and semantheme and those things. I didn’t know: I was just coming back from America. I didn’t know where I stood, where my public stood. So, I hadn’t decided what to do about the minimal units.
Therefore I thought choosing the word moneme was good, which I had to borrow from Henry Frei, with a different sense, because the meaning attached by Frei to moneme was that which is normally attached to morphemes by the Americans.
Therefore for me it was wrong in that respect, because he was using a term in order to avoid the implication of the word morpheme, but the word moneme had fallen victim to the use of morpheme. They just changed the form without changing the value. I changed the form expecting that people would accept a new value for it.
To some extent it was all right, but to a large extent I rejected the use of lexeme and morpheme. I presented morpheme as a possibility for grammatical monemes and this, finally, I discarded. And when people wrote theses on my direction I said “no, don’t do that”: not morpheme, just consider that monemes are all monemes and when you come to a point when you have to make differences between monemes, then you have to reconsider the problem and not by opposing some grammatical monemes to non-grammatical monemes, but opposing connectives, grammar connectives and determinants, grammatical determinants, which I finally called functionals and modalities.
The word functionals is not very good, because it makes use of the notion of function in a sense which is not the general sense of function in my functional linguistics. My functional linguistics uses function in an ordinary sense: I want to see how it works, how it functions and elements which contribute to the functioning should be functionals. Well, the functionals in question, they contribute to the function of meaning, but in a very special way and this is restricted to grammatical functions.
The term functional is referred to grammatical functions. To this day, I’m sorry I’ve chosen that form, because it might have been better to call them connectives and I’ve been writing papers in English and in French where I call them connectives, but I hope people will at last understand that we should not make there a two-fold distinction between grammatical and non-grammatical, because the modalities, which are grammatical, stand much closer to the lexemes than to the connectives. Because how can you define a modality? Modality is a determinant which cannot be determined. And what is a functional? A functional is an element which needs two elements to appear.
You see, a modality needs only one element to appear: it is the determinant of something, whereas a connective requires two elements. Unless, of course, it can be used as an adverb. Then, of course, it shifts category.
If you said, for example in French, avec, it goes with something, but you can say it in spoken French, avec, ça va avec, that’s an adverb. It shifts to adverb. In the same way as “but”, which is a connective, but it can become an adverb if it is sentence initial, because within a sentence you have to suppose it’s a stipulation. You have to assume that the grammatical relationships are within the sentence, not outside it. Therefore “but” is a restriction to what was said before, it must be presented as a restriction which bears upon the content of the sentence in which it appeared.


  1. segmenti ha detto:

    […] André Martinet/4 Cosa c’è dietro le parole […]

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