André Martinet/11 – Naturaliter Sauxurianus

Pubblicato: 25 aprile 2013 in comunicazione, personaggi
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Conversazione con André Martinet

Ferdinand De Saussure

Ferdinand De Saussure

What brought you in contact with Saussure?

My contacts with Saussure… they were relatively late. I told you about the fact that I invented phonology when I was a kid, but I had to wait until other people gave me the words for expressing what I knew. With Saussure it’s about the same. You see, I had a feeling about language, which more or less coincided with what Saussure had to say.

I was in no need to read Saussure in order to understand what people wrote in the wake of what Saussure had written. So, I don’t think I’ve read the whole of the Cours de linguistique générale before the age of… twenty-two or twenty-three.

Twenty-two is the time when I got my agrégation, that is when I finished my routine work at University and I could think by myself, because in French Universities, in order to get a job, you have to go trough a sort of discipline, in order to study a number of things which you are not very interested in, just because you have to do it. My choice had been English, so I had to pass l’agrégation d’anglais, which is a kind of safety for life. If you get l’agrégation the French State owes you a job, which is very nice. I thought I would get a job abroad, some place, anywhere, and I didn’t do anything. I just waited for people who were interested in found me a job, somewhere in Czechoslovakia or in Berlin or in Moscow, etc…

So, on the 29th September (and school was supposed to begin the 1st of October) I just noticed that I had no job and I didn’t want to carry on living with my mother paying for everything. I decided I had to take advantage of my agrégation. I went to the Ministery of Education and said: “I didn’t ask for a job in August, but now I want a job”. “Oh – they said – we are very sorry, we have very little to offer”… just the day before! “We have a chair of English in the Lycée de Pontivy“, which is a very, very, very small place in Brittany, which happens to have a licée, because Napoleon had decided to make it the military centre of Brittany. And it did last, because Napoleon didn’t last. Pontivy has got just a lycée and nothing else. I went to Pontivy, I got there in time and got the room and the next day I received a letter from the Ministry of Education starting: “Monsieur Martinet, appointed to professor, etc. etc., in the Lycée de Pontivy…”. I said “All right, that’s my nomination” and I put it in my pocket without reading further. And three days later, as I was walking in the street, all of a sudden, I puuled my paper out of my pocket and read trough and it was an invitation to leave Pontivy for another place, to go to Poitiers, which is a much larger place. So, I was just a bit late. I had to cancel all my things.

Well, anyway, that’s the agrègation, but of course for the agrégation of English there was no mention of Linguistics. It was pure pure literature, with twelve authors: all of them pure literary authors. I was very much interested, but that was not my job. I was a linguist. To this day I remember some passages, but I knew very well I was not meant for that. My basic interest was different, so, as soon as I got that safety which the agrégation means, I started reading in linguisitics and this I could do much better in Poitiers than I could have done in poor Pontivy. That was a good promotion and in the following year I got a job in Berlin. I got an appointment in the French University in Berlin, where I just had to work on my thesis.

Raffaele Simone writes that Saussure’s theory is a “metatheory” for all twentieth century linguists. Do you agree with him?

I wouldn’t say so, because he was practically unknown in America. Linguistics in America developed quite independently of Saussure’s influence. When I came to America no one had read Saussure, you see, so he didn’t play a role in my teaching in America. I hadn’t to go trough Saussure in the way I wouldl have done in Europe, so I wouldn’t say so. It’s quite true that on the European scene, with the exception of England, Saussure was the anticipator of the structuralist school, but my linguistics had developed independently of Saussure.

I just met Saussure. Just like I did with the Prague people: I just met them and retained suggestions from them, because, at the age of twenty-two, I couldn’t start inventing words, so I had to have someone to give some leads and those I found in Prague. I came into contact with the Prague people and with Saussure at about he same time.

And I would say at a certain point I knew the Prague pattern before I had made clear what the Saussure pattern was. It came gradually. Therefore Tullio De Mauro writes somewhere* that among present-day linguists I’m the one who is  the best Saussurian. And I think he’s right. I don’t go around quoting Saussure the way people do, but basically it is quite true: I am the man who had been thinking in Saussure’s terms to a large extent before I met Saussure. Therefore, when I met him, I didn’t have to change things.

In other words, I would say, I have always been independent and that is the reason for which some people don’t like me. They don’t, because I do not fit in the picture. They just think I am kind of superior: I’m not, not at all. I know very well that it would have been much better for me, for my career, if I had read the others more than I did and if I had been more accessible, maybe, to other’s people influence. But as a matter of fact, all this had gone so naturally with me, that I was not tempted to change my vision, except in order to receive suggestions, terminological suggestions.

In other words, I didn’t feel I really had to reconsider all the problems from the point of view of the people I read. I just thought that the people I was reading had had interesting hints, which just tallied with what I thought. I don’t mean to say that I’m cleverer than other people: I’m just like that. It has been easier for me todo so. But what is the disadvantage? Throughout my career people have thought that I was kind of haughty and didn’t want to mix with people ant to accept other people’s ideas.

*Martinet 1988, Sintassi generale, VIII: “…uno studioso che, dai suoi esordi, si andava rivelando  naturaliter Sauxurianus, come appunto Martinet, parimenti impegnato nelle analisi concrete descrittive o diacroniche, nella determinazione di leggi e caratteri generali e nella discussione critica delle teorie”.

Leggi gli altri post dell’intervista:

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

André Martinet/4 Choosing words

André Martinet/5 Amalgamations

André Martinet/6 Semiotics

André Martinet/7 Economy

André Martinet/8 La Societé Internationale de Linguistique fonctionnelle

André Martinet/9 We don’t care about deep structures

André Martinet/10 Focus on Communication

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