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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Raúl ARANOVICH

Langue as a complex algebra: theories of inflectional morphology in the Cours

Abstract/Résumé: In Lexical-Incremental models of morphology, morphemes are associations of form and meaning stored in a mental lexicon. These units are syntagmatically arranged inside a word, its content built incrementally out of the contents of its parts. Saussure's notion of the linguistic sign as a unit of an acoustic image (signifier) and a concept (signified) immediately suggests an LI model. The smallest unit so constituted, Saussure says, is not the word but its components. Roots and affixes establish syntagmatic relations to constitute words. Close examination of the examples of inflectional morphology throughout the Cours, however, brings it closer to an Inferential-Realizational (IR) model of word structure (Matthews 1972, Anderson 1992, Stump 2001), In which recurrent elements in word forms are exponents of content features, and realizational rules license a word form inferentially from the word's content. I will show that Saussure discusses a number of problems with Indoeuropean inflectional morphology, often underscored in IR theories (Matthews 1972): zero affixes, suppletion, agglutination, multiple exponence. The following remarks suggest the more fluid correspondence between signifier and signified which is found in IR models of morphology: "La langue est pour ainsi dire une algèbre qui n'aurait que des termes complexes. Parmi les oppositions q'elle comprend, il y en a qui sont plus significatives que d'autres." (Saussure 1916:168) Resting on the internal structure of the Saussurean sign, French structuralists revolutionized the methods of modern social science (Jameson 1974, Pavel 2001). They eschewed the motives and intentions of human actors (the interpretive model), focusing instead on the system of oppositions that make signification possible in each domain (the explanatory model). Eventually, however, post-structuralism came to reject the static nature of the linguistic sign. The criticism of structuralist treatments of morphology in IR models, I argue, is a parallel development that goes in the same direction. Paradoxically, Saussure's view of the langue as a complex algebra may be closer to a post-structuralist conception of linguistics, which may bring our discipline more in line with current developments in the social sciences.