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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Karen ALVES DA SILVA

Considerations on the Saussurean notion of ‘sujet parlant’

Abstract/Résumé: In the occasion of the first conference at the Geneva University (1891), Saussure asks if “Les faits linguistiques peuvent-ils passer pour être le résultat d'actes de notre volonté?” and inquires the positive response given by the Science of Language. To him, something must be added: “il y a beaucoup de degrés connus dans la volonté consciente ou inconsciente”. In the same text, Saussure highlights the linguistic act as "moins réfléchi, le moins prémédité, en même temps que le plus impersonnel de tous." (Saussure apud Engler, 1990, p. 6) The psychological willingness of the sujet parlant, and his relation to the langue, which is psychic, emerges as an issue. The Saussurean lesson attests the sujet parlant as a passive receiver of the langue and executor of linguistic acts, marked by psychological willingness. From another standpoint, Saussure discusses the activity of the sujet parlant once it points out to a less reflected, premeditated and impersonal act. The interpretation Saussure proposed concerns the idea of different levels of (un)conscious willingness. The hypothesis we put forward is that of a tension between a notion of sujet parlant built in order to satisfy the needs of an ordre propre de la langue and another one built in order to give account of the speaker’s own psychological activity. This way, we intend to analyze the making of the notion of sujet parlant in Saussure crossing chronological and theoretical data. In 1891, Saussure reflects on the idea of degrees of consciousness dealing with the sujet parlant. During the third course (1910-1911), the sujet parlant is “no more as a single person, but as a plural entity” (Chidichimo, 2009, p. 111). Indeed, the notion of collectivity is outweighed: Saussure refers to the ideas of "intelligence collective", "conscience collective" and highlights the role of masse parlante. If it is clear that the saussurean langue is social, one must consider the activity of the sujet parlant, even if inserted in the mass, as stated by Pétroff (2004, p. 238), "dans la vision de Saussure, langue reste une affaire humaine, quelque chose qui dépend des individus y compris dans ces interprétations fautives et involontaires". We understand that the shift from the notion of sujet parlant to the one of masse parlante is harmonic with the saussurean concept of langue, but does not rule out the complexity of the concept of sujet parlant. This involves the degree of freedom of individual activities in relation with the langue, a central topic in the contemporary Science of Language. We intend to investigate this hypothesis, our doctorate theme, in the light of Saussure’s concepts, manuscripts and relevant recent bibliography.