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Auteur: Maria Fausta P. DE CASTRO

On the relevance of the Saussurean theory for the study of language acquisition

Abstract/Résumé: In the chapter dedicated to linguistic value, Saussure ([1916]1968155) sets the bases for the relationship between language and thought, by asserting that, considered in itself, thought is like a nebula. Namely, there are not pre-established ideas et rien n’est distinct avant l’apparition de la langue. For Tullio de Mauro (2005 : 461), this passage stands as a “denial” of Chomsky’s argument (Aspects [1965] 1976: pp.7-8) according to which Saussure had “a naïve view of language”, i.e., a view on language as mere sequence of expressions corresponding to an amorphous sequence of concepts […]. What is lost in this image is language as a domain of articulations, explicitly mentioned in the same chapter, as well as annotated with subtle differences by his disciples: “le terrain linguistique, c’est celui de l’articulation, des articuli, des petits membres où la pensée prend valeur par leur son” (II C32, in Engler 1989:253). The scope of this hypothesis on the inextricable connection between language and thought can be explored in several fields of linguistic investigation. In the specific case of the present work, the aim is to show that it is possible to infer from Saussure’s work elements which are relevant for discussing the acquisition by the child of his/her mother tongue. It is from Saussure’s conceptualization of linguistic change that we devise the hypothesis that change in language acquisition implies forgetting - and losing - infantile speech. While discussing linguistic change, the author makes several references to the child. For example: when dealing with analogy, he acknowledges the fact that children’s speech provide important information about analogical formations, in spite of them not having any future in language “parce que ils (les enfants) connaissent mal l’usage et n’y sont pas asservis” (Saussure [1916] 1968:233). If analogies are “des opérations intelligentes” (Saussure 2002:160), it is nonetheless true that children’s analogical forms are not, in Saussure’s words, adopted by the community. The value system functioning in “la masse parlante” (Saussure [1916] 1968: 112), in the community of speakers, operates on those forms, producing a radical change, i.e., the forgetting of the infantile speech through the acquisition of the mother tongue (Pereira de Castro, 2010). It is in this sense that Saussure’s statement ([1916]1968:30) that “la langue n’est pas fonction du sujet parlant, elle est le produit que l’individu enregistre passivement” is further clarified.