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L’Origine du langage et des langues

Abstract : The problem of the origin obviously concerns something other than the origin of language: its essence, its relation to thought and to society, the organization of human thought (empiricism vs rationalism) its difference to animal thought and more generally the position of humanity in the whole animal kingdom ”. (S. Auroux). As Sylvain Auroux reminds us in the text that opens this issue, the question of the origin of languages ​​is irremediably linked to that of the origin of man, and has always given rise to a number of passionate debates and attempts at explanations. various. The question of the prohibition actually refers to that of scientific impossibility. This question of the forbidden, which is posed in a specific way in relation to the very essence of the object of linguistics in Saussure, M.-A. Cruz examines it in turn more specifically under the aspect of the system / time relationship. The extent of the problem multiplies the questions: it is a question of wondering both about the ways in which modern languages ​​reflect what first existed and then evolved, just as much as how language has evolved? and what exactly has evolved? But it is also a matter of fundamentally distinguishing between the problematic linked to the emergence of language itself and that of the evolution of languages ​​(R. Nicolaï).For R. Nicolaï, research on the origin of languages ​​is undoubtedly a myth that should be approached in terms of "intersubjective constructions". This theme of the "myth of the origin of languages" is, as we will see, common to several authors, including A. Szulmajster-Celnikier who takes it up on the occasion of a larger questioning on the methods and reasons for birth and death of languages. What is the role of "transmission", of language contact and how to deal with "variation" in this issue? (S. Mufwene)? What are the different language classification approaches (A. Szulmajster-Celnikier) and what about a possible correlation between the genetic evolution of populations and the diversification of languages ​​on the planet (L.-L. Cavalli- Sforza) ? L. Métoz presents here the problems of the “new synthesis” and how a certain number of works (including those, precisely by L.-L. Cavalli-Sforza, but also by Greenberg, Ruhlen, Renfrew) resort to linguistics, l archeology and biology to understand the problem in its complex globality. The central question, always present and recalled by S. Auroux is: is the origin of languages ​​inaccessible to history? According to Schumann & al., It is no longer unaffordable today, particularly because of relatively recent discoveries about the brain and the processes involved in evolution. The exploration of the biological foundations of language and the related questions have at least become possible and legitimate in some of their aspects, more resolutely thanks to the discoveries and reflections coming from disciplines other than linguistics, such as biology, paleoanthropology, ethology, neurolinguistics (Schumann & al.; E. Salzen; M. Corballis; B. Fracchiolla). The contributions of G. Chapouthier & S. Robert, but also of J.-L. Dessales compare, to varying degrees, the data observed in terms of “construction by juxtaposition” at the level of both languages ​​and living things. , and respectively take up the analogy between "genetic" mosaic, constitutive of living things, and "syntactic" mosaic constituting meaning. Based on the principle that it is illegitimate to discuss elements which he believes cannot be confirmed or denied,F. Rastier, takes up the question of the forbidden as a scientific impossibility, and for his part refutes the very question of the origin of language in order to develop what he considers to be the specificity of languages. However, on the origin of language and languages ​​- and as the conclusion of Sylvain Auroux suggests - it is undoubtedly in the debate itself - which participates in the will as much as the human need to understand the world - that it is advisable to seek legitimacy, and not in the theses aiming to explain one and the other in a definitive way. Anne Szulmajster-Celnikier remarks at the conclusion of her article: “the attention paid to linguistic plurality has the further advantage of highlighting, against a background of universalism (the ecological and psychophysiological unity of the human race, and the fact that one can translate from one language to another) a fundamental linguistic relativism. To show what, according to Jakobson's formula, taken up by Hagège, languages ​​"oblige" to say or "prevent saying" is also to become aware that the specific structures of idioms impose on speaking subjects diversified representations of the world that 'it is important to analyze their richness, not to reduce to the unique ”. It is also through the heterogeneity of the approaches that we wanted to reflect, on the scale of this issue and of the authors who made us the friendship to participate in it, the difficulty of approaching the living and the human in their great diversity and complexity, taking into account recent contributions from interdisciplinarity. As at the end of the 19th century, the debates remain lively, no doubt because they also involve different visions of man, and that deep disagreements exist. This is probably why this issue should be viewed more from the point of view of the questions asked, than of the answers given to it.
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Contributor : Beatrice Fracchiolla <>
Submitted on : Friday, December 25, 2020 - 12:43:47 PM
Last modification on : Saturday, December 26, 2020 - 3:21:20 AM


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Béatrice Fracchiolla. L’Origine du langage et des langues. Béatrice Fracchiola. 1 & 2, L'Harmattan, 2013, L'origine du langage et des langues/The Origin of the Language Faculty and of Languages. ⟨halshs-03088095⟩



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