Émile Benveniste

Émile Benveniste (French: [bɛ̃venist]; 27 May 1902 – 3 October 1976) was a French structural linguist and semiotician. He is best known for his work on Indo-European languages and his critical reformulation of the linguistic paradigm established by Ferdinand de Saussure.

Émile Benveniste
Born27 May 1902
Died3 October 1976 (aged 74)


Benveniste was born in Aleppo, Aleppo Vilayet, Ottoman Syria to a Sephardi family. His father sent him to Marseilles to undertake rabbinical studies, but his exceptional abilities were noted by Sylvain Lévi who introduced him to Antoine Meillet.

Initially studying under Meillet, a former student of Saussure, at the Sorbonne, he began teaching at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and was elected to the Collège de France a decade later in 1937 as professor of linguistics. By this time he had already begun his investigation into the status of names within the history of Indo-European linguistic forms. He held his seat at the Collège de France until 1969 when he retired due to deteriorating health, after he suffered a stroke that left him aphasic.[1] However, he served as the first President of the International Association for Semiotic Studies from 1969 to 1972.

Benveniste died in Paris, aged 74.


At the start of his career, his highly specialised and technical work limited his influence to a small circle of scholars. In the late thirties, he aroused some controversy for challenging the influential Saussurian notion of the sign, that posited a binary distinction between the phonic shape of any given word (signifier) and the idea associated with it (signified). Saussure argued that the relationship between the two was psychological, and purely arbitrary. Benveniste challenged this model in his Nature du signe linguistique.[2]

The publication of his monumental text, Problèmes de linguistique générale or Problems in General Linguistics, would elevate his position to much wider recognition. The two volumes of this work appeared in 1966 and 1974 respectively. The book exhibits not only scientific rigour but also a lucid style accessible to the layman, consisting of various writings culled from a period of more than twenty-five years. In Chapter 5, Animal Communication and Human Language, Benveniste repudiated behaviourist linguistic interpretations by demonstrating that human speech, unlike the so-called languages of bees and other animals, cannot be merely reduced to a stimulus-response system.

The I–you polarity is another important development explored in the text. The third person acts under the conditions of possibility of this polarity between the first and second persons. Narration and description illustrate this.

"I signifies "the person who is uttering the present instance of the discourse containing I." This instance is unique by definition and has validity only in its uniqueness ... I can only be identified by the instance of discourse that contains it and by that alone."

You, on the other hand, is defined in this way:

"by introducing the situation of "address," we obtain a symmetrical definition for you as "the individual spoken to in the present instance of discourse containing the linguistic instance of you." These definitions refer to I and you as a category of language and are related to their position in language." — from Problems in General Linguistics

A pivotal concept in Benveniste's work is the distinction between the énoncé and the énonciation, which grew out of his study on pronouns. The énoncé is the statement independent of context, whereas the énonciation is the act of stating as tied to context. In essence, this distinction moved Benveniste to see language itself as a "discursive instance", i.e., fundamentally as discourse. This discourse is, in turn, the actual utilisation, the very enactment, of language.

One of the founders of structuralism, Roland Barthes, attended Benveniste's seminars at École Pratique. Pierre Bourdieu was instrumental in publishing Benveniste's other major work, Vocabulaire des Institutions Indo-Européennes in his series Le Sens commun at radical publisher Les Éditions de Minuit (1969). The title is misleading: it is not a “vocabulary”, but rather a comprehensive and comparative analysis of key social behaviors and institutions across Germanic, Romance-speaking, Greco-Roman, and Indo-Iranian cultures, using the words (vocables) that denote them as points of entry. It makes use of philology, anthropology, phenomenology and sociology. A number of contemporary French philosophers (e.g., Barbara Cassin, Nicole Loraux, Philippe-Joseph Salazar, François Jullien, Marc Crépon) have often referred to Benveniste's Vocabulaire and are inspired by his methodology and the distinction he draws between meaning (signification) and what is referred to (désignation). Jacques Derrida's famous work on "hospitality, the Other, the enemy"[3] is an explicit "gloss" on Benveniste's ground-breaking study of host/hostility/hospitality in the Vocabulary.[4]

Publications translated to English

  • 1969: Indo-European language and society, translated by Elizabeth Palmer. London: Faber and Faber 1973. ISBN 0-87024-250-4.
  • 1966-1974: Problems in general linguistics, translated by Mary Elizabeth Meek, 2 vols. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami, P 1971. ISBN 0-87024-132-X.

Selected works

  • Hittite et indo-européen : études comparatives
  • Indo-European language and society
  • Les infinitifs avestiques
  • Langue, discours, société
  • Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen
  • The Persian religion, according to the chief Greek texts
  • Problèmes de linguistique générale
  • Le Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes
  • Inscriptions de bactriane extraits


  1. ^ Calvert Watkins, 'L'Apport d'Emile Benveniste à la grammaire comparée,' in E. Benveniste aujourd'hui, Actes du Colloque International du C.N.R.S. Université François Rabelais Tours, 28 - 30 septembre 1983 Vol. 2 Peeters Publishers, 1984 pp.3-11 p.3-
  2. ^ Emile Benveniste, 'Nature du signe linguistique,' in Acta linguistica 1939, 1 pp.23–29.
  3. ^ Jacques Derrida, De l'hospitalité, (avec Anne Dufourmantelle), Calmann-Lévy, 1997
  4. ^ E. Benveniste, le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, Les Editions de Minuit vol.1, 1969 pp.87-101.
  • Gérard Dessons, Émile Benveniste : L'invention du discours, In Press, 2006. (in French)
1902 in France

Events from the year 1902 in France.

1976 in France

Events from the year 1976 in France.

Albert Cuny

Albert Cuny (16 May 1869 – 21 March 1947) was a French linguist known for his attempts to establish phonological correspondences between the Indo-European and Semitic languages and for his contributions to the laryngeal theory.

He was a student of the French Indo-Europeanist Antoine Meillet (Faral 1947:277). From 1910 until his formal retirement from teaching in 1937 he was a professor of Latin and comparative grammar at the University of Bordeaux (ib. 278). He continued teaching Sanskrit at the University however for the rest of his life (ib.). He was a correspondent of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (ib. 277).

Cuny's place in the development of the laryngeal theory is described as follows by Émile Benveniste (1935:148):

The necessary precondition for any Indo-European reconstruction was provided by the brilliant discovery of F. de Saussure relative to the consonantal nature of the phoneme ə. Accepted and enriched by Möller, by Pedersen and Cuny, this theory can pass for established today thanks to the perspicacity of J. Kuryłowicz, who was able to recognize two of the three varieties of Indo-European ə in Hittite ḫ.

Antoine Culioli

Antoine Culioli (4 September 1924 – 9 February 2018) was a French linguist of Corsican origins. He developed a linguistic theory known as “Théorie des Opérations Énonciatives” (sometimes abbreviated as TOE).

He was influenced by Émile Benveniste, Gustave Guillaume, and the Stoics.

Antoine Meillet

Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (French: [ɑ̃twan mɛjɛ]; 11 November 1866, Moulins, France – 21 September 1936, Châteaumeillant, France) was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. He began his studies at the Sorbonne University, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure and the members of the L'Année Sociologique. In 1890, he was part of a research trip to the Caucasus, where he studied the Armenian language. After his return, de Saussure had gone back to Geneva so he continued the series of lectures on comparative linguistics that the Swiss linguist had given.

Meillet completed his doctorate, Research on the Use of the Genitive-Accusative in Old Slavonic, in 1897. In 1902, he took a chair in Armenian at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales and took under his wing Hrachia Adjarian, who would become the founder of modern Armenian dialectology. In 1905, he was elected to the Collège de France, where he taught on the history and structure of Indo-European languages. One of his most-quoted statements is that "anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant". He worked closely with linguists Paul Pelliot and Robert Gauthiot.

Today Meillet is remembered as the mentor of an entire generation of linguists and philologists, who would become central to French linguistics in the twentieth century, such as Émile Benveniste, Georges Dumézil, and André Martinet.

In 1921, with the help of linguists Paul Boyer and André Mazon, he founded the Revue des études slaves

August Kovačec

August Kovačec (born 6 August 1938) is Croatian linguist and Romanicist.He was born in Donje Jesenje. He received a degree in Romance and Russian philology at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb in 1960, and a PhD in 1965. In the period 1960-62 he worked as Croatian language editor at the University of Bucharest. In 1962 he started working at the Department of Romance Languages at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, becoming professor in 1983. During the 1966-1967 he went to Paris to further study under André Martinet and Émile Benveniste.Since 1997 he is a full member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and since 2011 a secretary of its Department of Philology.His work is focused on the Istro-Romanian language (Opis današnjeg istrorumunjskog – Descrierea istroromânei actuale, 1971; Istrorumunjsko-hrvatski rječnik: (s gramatikom i tekstovima), 1998) as well as Jewish-Spanish spoken in Dubrovnik and Sarajevo and their contacts with Croatian. He published papers on French language, Romance comparative syntax, on Balkans languages and Romance literatures (Francuska književnost XIV. do XVI. st., Rumunjska književnost, in: Povijest svjetske književnosti, book 3, 1982). At the Miroslav Krleža Lexicographical Institute he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Croatian General Lexicon (1991-1996), then deputy editor (1996-2001) and finally the Editor-in-Chief of Croatian Encyclopedia (2001–05). His articles on Croatian language policy meet criticism, arising from Kovačec's puristic approach to language and the primordialist view of nations.

Ayadgar-i Zariran

Ayadgar-i Zareran (and other approximationscf. [#] of ambiguous Book Pahlavi ʾyʾtkʾr y zryrn), meaning "Memorial of Zarer", is a Zoroastrian Middle Persian heroic poem that, in its surviving manuscript form, represents one of the earliest surviving examples of Iranian epic poetry.

The poem of about 346 lines is a tale of the death in battle of the mythical hero Zarer (< Avestan Zairivairi), and of the revenge of his death. The figures and events of the poem's story are embellishments of mythological characters and events alluded to in the Gathas, which are a set of autobiographical hymns in the Avesta that are attributed to the prophet Zoroaster.

Calvert Watkins

Calvert Watkins (/ˈwɒtkɪnz/; March 13, 1933 – March 20, 2013) was an American linguist and philologist, known for his book How to Kill a Dragon. He was Professor Emeritus of linguistics and the classics at Harvard University and later went to serve as professor-in-residence at UCLA.

Collège de France

The Collège de France (French pronunciation: ​[kɔlɛʒ də fʁɑ̃s]), founded in 1530, is a higher education and research establishment (grand établissement) in France. It is located in Paris, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne.

The Collège is considered to be France's most prestigious research establishment. As of 2017, 21 Nobel Prize winners and 8 Fields Medalists have been affiliated with the Collège. It does not grant degrees. Each professor is required to give lectures where attendance is free and open to anyone. Professors, about 50 in number, are chosen by the professors themselves, from a variety of disciplines, in both science and the humanities. The motto of the Collège is Docet Omnia, Latin for "It teaches everything"; its goal is to "teach science in the making" and can be best summed up by Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phrase: "Not acquired truths, but the idea of a free research" which is inscribed in golden letters above the main hall.

The Collège has research laboratories and one of the best research libraries of Europe, with sections focusing on history with rare books, humanities, social sciences and also chemistry and physics.

As of June 2009, over 650 audio podcasts of Collège de France lectures are available on iTunes. Some are also available in English and Chinese. Similarly, the Collège de France's website hosts several videos of classes.

The classes are followed by various students, from senior researchers to PhD or master students, or even bachelor students. Moreover, the "leçons inaugurales" (first lesson) are important events in Paris intellectual and social life and attract a very large public of curious Parisians.

Grafton Melville Richards

Grafton Melville Richards (1910-1973) was a Welsh Scholar.

He was born in November 1910 as the third son of William and Elizabeth Richards (his father was a railway foreman) in Ffair-fach, Llandeilo, Carms. Grafton Richard married and had a son and daughter. He was educated at Neath grammar school and went onto achieve a first-class (1:1) Honours degree in Welsh from Swansea University College, starting in 1928 and finishing in 1931. In 1933, he gained a research M.A. with distinction. Following on from that, he was elected into a University Fellowship in 1934 which enabled him to continue his studies in Dublin with the scholars, Osborn Bergin, Myles Dillon and Gerald Murphy, as well as in Paris with Joseph Vendryes, Antoine Meillet and Émile Benveniste. In October 1936, he was given the position of Research Assistant Lecturer in Welsh at Swansea University and later became Assistant Lecturer in April 1937.

Melville Richards published his work in academic journals on the Syntax of the sentence in Medieval Welsh and revealed his ability early in his career as he was one of a number of language scholars that were associated with Henry Lewis. In his life, he served in the army, primarily in intelligence, between the years 1939-1945. He used his experiences at war to write his only novel Y gelyn mewnol in 1946, it was an espionage story set in West Wales.

After his time in the army came to an end, he returned to Swansea (where he stayed until 1947) which was where he was appointed Lecturer, the Reader and Head of Celtic Studies Department in Liverpool University. From there, he was elected to the Chair of Welsh at the University College of North Wales, Bangor in 1965. He gained a PhD from Liverpool 1965.

Grafton Melville Richard's first area of interest in his research were Celtic studies and Welsh syntax. In his early research, he published Llawlyfr Hen Wyddeleg in 1935 which was a handbook based on Rudolf Thurneysen's magisterial 'Grammar of Old Irish'. In 1938, he published Cystrawen y Frawddeg Gymraeg which is a clear guide to the syntax of the sentence in modern Welsh. However, it has been unfavorably reviewed by T. J. Morgan in Y Llenor. His area of research started changing in the early 1950s as he started to publish work on Welsh place-names and onomastics which led onto be his primary academic interest.

He single-handedly produced an historical archive of place-names in Wales and made clear of their meaning and significance in a comprehensive Welsh onomasticon. His research was conducted in a range of fields of study which are: settlement patterns and demography, the history of governance and administration, legal custom and structures, toponyms as well as the more strictly linguistic area.

He published several other documentations, books and academic articles such as, a medieval Welsh law book, another law book, Jesus College LVII (1957), The Laws of Hywel Dda (1954), Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units (1969) as well as editing an English and Welsh an Atlas of Anglesey in 1972. Not only did these important articles explain the significance of place-names, they lay out the methodology and scholarly standards in a hazardous area of academic study. Some of his research and work brought him international recognition. For example, 'his contributions to the Batsford The names of towns and cities in Britain (1970), as a member of the council of the English Place-Name Society, a member of the International Committee on Onomastic Sciences and chairman of the Council for Name Studies of Great Britain and Ireland...' Melville Richard planned to publish volumes but did not succeed, yet his archive of 300,000 slips have been edited and is available online (transcribed in English and Welsh).

Around 1970, his health deteriorated. He died at home in Benllech, Anglesey on 3 November 1973. His funeral service was held in Colwyn Bay Crematorium on 8 November.

Linguistic anthropology

Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary study of how language influences social life. It is a branch of anthropology that originated from the endeavor to document endangered languages, and has grown over the past century to encompass most aspects of language structure and use.Linguistic anthropology explores how language shapes communication, forms social identity and group membership, organizes large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and develops a common cultural representation of natural and social worlds.

Pontic languages

Pontic is a proposed language family or macrofamily, comprising the Indo-European and Northwest Caucasian language families, with Proto-Pontic being its reconstructed proto-language.


Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology. Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or "coded" in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge (e.g., grammar, lexicon, etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, any pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors. In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time, etc. of an utterance.The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.

Sogdian language

The Sogdian language was an Eastern Iranian language spoken in the Central Asian region of Sogdia, located in modern-day Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan (capital: Samarkand; other chief cities: Panjakent, Fergana, Khujand, and Bukhara), as well as some Sogdian immigrant communities in ancient China. Sogdian is one of the most important Middle Iranian languages, along with Bactrian, Khotanese Saka, Middle Persian, and Parthian. It possesses a large literary corpus.

The Sogdian language is usually assigned to a Northeastern group of the Iranian languages. No direct evidence of an earlier version of the language ("Old Sogdian") has been found, although mention of the area in the Old Persian inscriptions means that a separate and recognisable Sogdia existed at least since the Achaemenid Empire (559–323 BCE).

Like Khotanese, Sogdian possesses a more conservative grammar and morphology than Middle Persian. The modern Eastern Iranian language Yaghnobi is the descendant of a dialect of Sogdian spoken around the 8th century in Osrushana, a region to the south of Sogdia.


In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".Structuralism in Europe developed in the early 1900s, in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague, Moscow and Copenhagen schools of linguistics. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance, an array of scholars in the humanities borrowed Saussure's concepts for use in their respective fields of study. French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was arguably the first such scholar, sparking a widespread interest in structuralism.The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture. The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include Claude Lévi-Strauss, linguist Roman Jakobson, and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed to be the heir apparent to existentialism. However, by the late 1960s, many of structuralism's basic tenets came under attack from a new wave of predominantly French intellectuals such as the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, the philosopher Jacques Derrida, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the literary critic Roland Barthes. Though elements of their work necessarily relate to structuralism and are informed by it, these theorists have generally been referred to as post-structuralists. In the 1970s, structuralism was criticized for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Despite this, many of structuralism's proponents, such as Lacan, continue to assert an influence on continental philosophy and many of the fundamental assumptions of some of structuralism's post-structuralist critics are a continuation of structuralism.

Translating "law" to other European languages

The translation of "law" to other European languages faces several difficulties. In most European languages, as well as some others influenced by European languages, there are two different words that can be translated to English as "law". For the general comparison in this article the Latin terms "ius" and "lex" will be used. Etymologically, ius has some relation to right, just or straight.


In anthropology, a tribe is a human social group. Exact definitions of what constitutes a tribe vary among anthropologists, and the term is itself considered controversial in academic circles in part due to its association with colonialism. In general use, the term may refer to people perceived by a population to be primitive and may have negative connotations. The concept is often contrasted with other social groups concepts, such as nations, states, and forms of kinship.

In some places, such as India and North America, tribes are polities that have been granted legal recognition and limited autonomy by the national or federal government.

Trifunctional hypothesis

The trifunctional hypothesis of prehistoric Proto-Indo-European society postulates a tripartite ideology ("idéologie tripartite") reflected in the existence of three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen)—corresponding to the three functions of the sacral, the martial and the economic, respectively. The trifunctional thesis is primarily associated with the French mythographer Georges Dumézil, who proposed it in 1929 in the book Flamen-Brahman, and later in Mitra-Varuna.

École pratique des hautes études

The École pratique des hautes études (French pronunciation: ​[ekɔl pʁatik de ot.z‿etyd]), abbreviated EPHE, is a Grand Établissement in Paris, France, and a constituent college of PSL Research University. It is counted among France's most prestigious research and higher education institutions. It is highly selective and member of the elite Université PSL (with ENS Ulm, EHESS or Ecole des Mines).

Its degrees in religious studies and in history count among the best in the world. Closely linked to École française d'Extrême-Orient and Institut français du Proche-Orient, EPHE has formed continuously world-class experts in Asian and Islamic studies and among them investment bankers, diplomat and military officers specialized in these areas. Particularly, leading researchers in military strategy have taught in EPHE for more than a century (for example the famous Hervé Coutau-Bégarie). Moreover, famous researchers in natural sciences (especially neurosciences and chemistry) teach and taught in EPHE (among them Jean Baptiste Charcot and Marcellin Berthelot). Highly regarded for its top level in both natural and human sciences, EPHE has relations and exchange programs with world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge, Princeton, and Al-Azhar.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.