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Summary Details


Query:   Origin of 'un système où tout se tient'
Author:  Laurie Bauer
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   General Linguistics

Summary:   IN LINGUIST 14.1913 I ASKED THE FOLLOWING QUESTION:

I'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMOUS STRUCTURALIST
DICTUM THAT A LANGUAGE IS 'UN SYSTÈME OÙ TOUT SE TIENT'. A SEARCH OF
THE NET FINDS IT VARIOUSLY ATTRIBUTED TO DE SAUSSURE OR TO MEILLET (I
BELIEVE THE LATTER IS CORRECT), BUT NO REFERENCE! CAN ANYONE SUPPLY
THE REFERENCE? THANK YOU!

I HAD NO IDEA THAT I WAS OPENING UP A CAN OF WORMS. THANK YOU TO ALL
THOSE WHO RESPONDED WITH THEIR VARIOUS ANSWERS.

1. ANTOINE MEILLET, IN HIS 'INTRODUCTION À L'ÉTUDE COMPARATIVE DES
LANGUES INDO-EUROPÉENNES' (1903: P. 407) WROTE ''QUE CHAQUE LANGUE
FORME UN SYSTÈME OÙ TOUT SE TIENT''. MY LOCAL LIBRARY ONLY HAS THE
SEVENTH EDITION (1934), WHERE THERE IS NO SUCH COMMENT ON P. 407, SO I
CANNOT CONFIRM THIS. SOMEONE ELSE GAVE ME A VERSION FROM THE 1915
EDITION, P. 463, NAMELY ''CHAQUE LANGUE FORME UN SYSTÈME OÙ TOUT SE
TIENT, ET A UN PLAN GÉNÉRAL D'UNE MERVEILLEUSE RIGUEUR'', BUT AGAIN I
CANNOT CONFIRM THIS FROM THE 1934 EDITION. ALTHOUGH I CANNOT CONFIRM
THESE PAGE NUMBERS PERSONALLY, EACH CAME TO ME FROM MORE THAN ONE
SOURCE, SO THEY ARE PROBABLY RIGHT. HOWEVER, I CAN CONFIRM THAT ON
P. IX OF MY EDITION OF THE BOOK (AND BACK AS FAR AS 1915 AT LEAST,
ACCORDING TO MY INFORMANTS), THERE IS A COMMENT THAT ''COMME POUR TOUTE
AUTRE LANGUAGE, LES DIFFÉRENTES PARTIES DU SYSTÈME LINGUISTIQUE
INDO-EUROPÉEN FORME UN ENSEMBLE OÙ TOUT SE TIENT ET DONT IL IMPORTE
AVANT TOUT DE COMPRENDRE LE RIGOUREUX ENCHAÎNEMENT.'' THE PHRASE RECURS
IN MEILLET'S ''LINGUISTIQUE HISTORIQUE ET LINGUISTIQUE GÉNÉRALE'' (1921:
16): ''UNE LANGUE CONSTITUE UN SYSTÈME COMPLEXE DE MOYEN D'EXPRESSION,
SYSTÈME OÙ TOUT SE TIENT...''. WE FIND IT AGAIN IN ''LA MÉTHODE
COMPARATIVE EN LINGUISTIQUE HISTORIQUE''. I HAVE THE 1954 EDITION,
THOUGH THERE WAS A 1925 EDITION. ON THE FIRST PAGE OF CHAPTER 2 (P. 12
IN THE EDITION I HAVE), WE FIND ''CHAQUE FAIT LINGUISTIQUE FAIT PARTIE
D'UN ENSEMBLE OÙ TOUT SE TIENT.''

2. FERDINAND DE SAUSSUREE, IN HIS 'COURS DE LINGUISTIQUE GÉNÉRALE'.
UNFORTUNATELY THE PEOPLE WHO REFERRED ME TO THIS WERE UNABLE TO GIVE
PRECISE REFERENCES FOR THE PHRASE. HOWEVER, THERE IS SOMETHING VERY
SIMILAR IN PART I, CHAP. 3, SEC. 3, P. 124 OF 5TH ED. [1960]: ''LA
LANGUE EST UN SYSTÈME DONT TOUTES LES PARTIES PEUVENT ET DOIVENT ÊTRE
CONSIDÉRÉES DANS LEUR SOLIDARITÉ SYNCHRONIQUE.'' (THE EDITION I HAVE IS
DATED 1969, BUT THE PAGINATION HOLDS.)

3. HANS GEORG VON DER GABELENTZ [1840-1893]. IN DIE SPRACHWISSENSCHAFT
(1901 [1891]:481), WE HAVE [TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN] ''EVERY
LANGUAGE IS A SYSTEM, ALL PARTS OF WHICH ORGANICALLY COHERE AND
INTERACT. AS ONE CAN IMAGINE, NO COMPONENT CAN BE ABSENT OR EVEN
DIFFERENT, WITHOUT TRANSFORMING THE WHOLE.'' MY LOCAL LIBRARY DOES NOT
HOLD THIS, SO I HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO CHECK.

4. KOERNER, ERNST F. K., 1999: LINGUISTIC HISTORIOGRAPHY. PROJECTS AND
PROSPECTS. AMSTERDAM (STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE SCIENCES
92), P. 183-202 CANNOT FIND THE ORIGIN OF THE PHRASE. I WOULD NOT
EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO DO BETTER! IT PROBABLY HAS TO REMAIN ONE OF THOSE
MYSTERIES OF LINGUISTICS.

5. MEILLET, BUT FROM SAUSSURE. THERE IS A SUGGESTION THAT WHILE THE
PHRASE DOES NOT APPEAR IN SAUSSURE'S WORK, MEILLET GOT IT FROM
SAUSSURE'S LECTURES. THIS IS MADE IN PEETERS, BERT, 1990. ENCORE UNE
FOIS 'OÙ TOUT SE TIENT'. HISTORIOGRAPHIA LINGUISTICA 17 427-463. IN
THIS PAPER, THOUGH, PEETERS DECIDES THAT ALL THE EVIDENCE POINTS TO
MEILLET AS THE AUTHOR OF THE SLOGAN, WHICH HE APPARENTLY USED 10 YEARS
BEFORE THE 1903 VERSION WHICH MOST PEOPLE KNOW. PERHAPS THE CITATION
FROM VON DER GABELENTZ THROWS DOUBT EVEN ON THAT!

IN SUM, A CONFUSED STORY, BUT THE BEST BET - FOR THE WORDING, IF NOT
NECESSARILY FOR THE IDEA - IS ANTOINE MEILLET.


LAURIE BAUER
PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS
SCHOOL OF LINGUISTICS AND APPLIED LANGUAGE STUDIES
VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON
PO BOX 600
WELLINGTON
NEW ZEALAND
WEB: HTTP://WWW.VUW.AC.NZ/LALS

LL Issue: 14.1954
Date Posted: 17-Jul-2003
Original Query: Read original query