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Auteur: Lorenzo CIGANA

Saussure’s contribution to Hjelmslev's notion of ‘subconscious’

Abstract/Résumé: Hjelmslev's "Principes de Grammaire Générale" does possess an indubitable founding feature; since the very first part of his work, the Danish linguist is engaged in establishing grammar as an autonomous discipline: this has to be done by settling the problems of grammar's "place" and "delimitation" through the individuation of its theoretical objects among the linguistic facts and the justification of its research-field just on the boundaries of other disciplines. References to an "interpreted Saussure" play a cynosure-role in the establishment of an autonomous grammatical object just on the boundary between psychology and sociology. Aim of this talk is to clear the saussurean components in Hjelmslev's notion of "subconscious". In stressing the "subconscious character of linguistic facts", the Danish linguist seems to have relied on some ground-ideas belonging to the saussurean tradition (the main source is still the "Cours de Linguistique Générale"): (1) the arbitrariness of signs (and its consequent distinction from "motivation") has been invoked by Hjelmslev in order to explain the natural speaker's tendency to introduce a "significative base" in grammatical forms; it seems that just by entering in a synchronic state, even the most "depleted" form gains a meaning, although far from being necessarily "motivated". (2) The priority of synchronic approach has been adopted since it permits the recognition of grammar's psychological value and the very existence of grammatical categories (synchrony being "the only concrete reality in linguistics"). (3) Finally, the "linguistic mechanism" and its "analogical functioning" are clear references to Saussure, and have been adopted by Hjelmslev since for him the deep grammatical structures are not governed by any intentional criteria but are rooted in a sort of "blind" automatism: the articulation between syntagmatic and associative (paradigmatic) axes; in this sense, "intentionality" seems not to be an suitable category to describe language. These references enable, in Hjelmslev's perspective, the setting up of a "synchronic science of linguistic categories", independent from psychology but largely compatible with it. The "subconscious character of grammatical facts" is just one of the products of this founding momentum: Hjelmslev's attempt to balance different theoretical instances into a coherent and unitary description, still far from the advanced and more formalized stage of Glossematics (such as the "Theory of Language. Résumé") but at any rate not incompatible with it.