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Linguistics and other semiotic arts

Aldo Scaglione
To cite this article: Aldo Scaglione (1995) Linguistics and other semiotic arts, <i>WORD</i>,
46:1, 55-74, DOI: 10.1080/00437956.1995.11435938
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Published online: 16 Jun 2015.

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Date: 12 November 2016, At: 13:55

ALDO S C A G L / O N E - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Linguistics and other semiotic arts

Philology has been the main business of my scholarly career,
meaning by this no-longer-transparent term a method of cultural
and literary history and criticism that applies linguistic categories
as one of its essential ingredients. 1 In my own contributions to the
history of language sciences I have been chiefly motivated by a wish
to ground the study of cultural phenomena in a more circumstantiated
understanding of the contemporaneous conceptions of grammar and
language; in other words, I have attempted to relate the traditional
Trivium Arts-the artes sermocinales; arts of discourse-to languagebased cultural expressions.
In our century a few central concepts have been creeping in and
out of several disciplines, providing a sort of common guide through
the evolving intellectual climate. These concepts might be reduced to
essentially two, namely: the closed nature of our mental structures, and
the consequent ambiguity of the expression of mental operations. Differently put, both linguists and literary critics-to take two fields that
are clearly separate yet related-feel that language contains its own
references in a closed circle, so that the apparent relationship of language to outside reality requires critical interpretation, in full awareness of the ambiguous, polyvalent nature of linguistic utterances. For
Saussure, "l'objet est un point de vue du sujet". Thus, closure and
relativity are allied to a dialectical predicament that grounds meaning
not on straight reference to objective outside realities but on internal
differences and oppositions (meaning deriving from absences as much
as from presences).
At the same time, however, other disciplines have emphasized
realities outside the mind or outside consciousness, and these viewpoints have often played together with the opposite mentalism of linguistics and much literary criticism. Consider, as cases in point, psychoanalysis and Marxist sociology, which have constantly assumed
that the deeper, and possibly the only value of our linguistic utterances
lies in their relationship to deep instinctual urges or, alternatively, to
real material factors (economic and social structures as opposed to
mental superstructures). It may seem paradoxical that these discrete
trends-the linguistic, the psychoanalytic, and the Marxist-, which
in the abstract seem contradictory and mutually exclusive, are often




found together, not only without realization of contradictoriness, but

with a feeling that the resulting ambiguity is the sophisticated evincement of a deep truth. We thus have critics and analysts who claim to
be mentalists, relativists, psychoanalysts, and "Marxists", all at the
same time (most exemplary, perhaps, Julia Kristeva).
A signal contribution to what I could call the philological approach has come from the Lacanian use of language categories. In
psychoanalysis Lacan has replaced Freud's instinct-filled, primitive,
speechless id with the stage of language formation, regarding language
as responsible for our desires. The process of expression through
dreams and art is necessary in order to bring the unconscious to consciousness in the only acceptable way, to wit, through disguise, as the
expression of a repressed affect.
In its several varieties Marxist criticism, in turn, interprets discourse, cultural and literary or other, as expression of class struggle,
and analyzes it as revelation of deep (referential) structural realities on
the socio-economic level. 2 Kristeva attempts to combine linguistic
structuralism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and Bakhtin's method. Her
efforts patently typify the predicament of a field that remains fraught
with the contradictions of objective realism and historicism on the one
hand and, on the other hand, linguistic relativism and ahistoricism.
The increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary has reached the point
of involving a virtual breakdown of the traditional boundaries among
disciplines. A high degree of interdisciplinarity has given literary criticism a central role in the general attention it elicits among intellectuals
and readers as a form of broad theorizing that is philosophical without
being a real branch of philosophy. Even while a Saussurian banner has
been hanging over the houses of other semiotic disciplines because
Saussure and others have offered linguistics as a model for all systems
of signs, Marx, Freud, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and Lacan
are earnestly discussed together with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Gadamer in contexts that are generally subsumed as part of "literary
theory and criticism". Derrida is a philosopher who appeals especially
to literary critics and, without ever pretending to be a literary critic,
says much about literature. In all this, linguistics is directly affected.
The fact that both practitioners and theorists of literary criticism as well
as their readers are de rigueur not "linguists" is similar to their also
reading Marx without knowing alternative political theories, Nietzsche
without being well-versed in the history of philosophy, Freud without
knowing medicine and alternative psychoanalysis, etc. A linguist
heeding literary criticism would be analogous to a neurologist heeding



Roman Jakobson on aphasia. Neurologists have, indeed, done just

that, and, I believe, with mutual gain. The question, then is: What
precisely could a linguist assimilate or incorporate from literary theory?3
The various fields have been wide open to one another. If, to take
one step back, we should wonder what linguistics owed other sciences,
we ought to look first at the prevailing philosophical paradigms, and
particularly at the impact of Auguste Comte's positivism on the neogrammarian faith in phonetics as the basis of oral language and all
changes in lexicon, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Even Saussure hailed from that source, and so did the Russian Formalists (including Roman Jakobson) for their basic reliance on sound, hence on
phonology. When modern linguistics was born, two paradigms were
struggling with each other: the basically materialistic one of positivism
and the idealistic one of the Hegelian right, whose extreme poles were
the Italian philosophers of pure mentalism, Giovanni Gentile and
Benedetto Croce. Linguistics was influenced by both these trends,
interacting in creative competition. The developing mentalism that led
from Gestaltism through all expressions of Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology, down to Derridian deconstruction, had its counterpart in the linguistics of Saussure and others. 4
Reflections on the relationship between language and thinking,
particularly within the framework of the Saussurian definition of the
sign, have tended toward either one of two poles. 5 Since the binomium
language-thought reflects the binomium grammar-logic, we can either
view language as reproducing thought in one form or another, or
thought as conditioned by the categories and forms of language. And
since our traditional view of logic has been essentially the Aristotelian
one, in Western culture both grammatical notions and logical framework have been respectively those of Greek language and Greek logic.
Tullio de Mauro's study of Wittgenstein elucidates the master's
thought by underlining the premise that man never transcends the
boundaries of his language: ''The limits of my own language mean the
limits of my world", and "the world is my world". 6 Basically, this
position can be assimilated to the Sapir/Whorf theory, which is allied
to that of the supremacy of grammar. 7 On the other side, if we maintain the supremacy of logic, we may hold to a firm connection between
logic and objective outside reality, which language would, then, somehow approximate. 8
Russian Formalism sought to define the specificity of literary
discourse, namely "literariness", as a departure from the familiar




everyday language (defamiliarization and foregrounding, with particular "devices" as genre markers and dominants). Literature and its
language derive from literature, not from life. Jakobson put it most
bluntly: insofar as it rests on difference from ordinary language, ''poetry is organized violence on ordinary speech'' . On the semantic level,
the prevalence of connotation over denotation is another violation of
ordinary communicative language.
A discourse on the relationship between linguistics and literary
criticism demands more room for the stellar name of Roman Jakobson. 9 All his life he strove to go beyond Saussure in stressing the
connection between sound and meaning. 10 He related the two disciplines of linguistics and poetics so as to bridge their gap by bringing
out the complex and linguistically relevant connotative aspects of poetic discourse. 11 For Jakobson ([1960,] 1987: 63), "since linguistics is
the global science of verbal structure, poetics may be regarded as an
integral part of linguistics'', and he recalled Paul Valery 's 1945 dictum: "literature is and cannot be anything but a sort of extension and
application of certain properties of language", as well as John Hollander's (1959) "there seems to be no reason for trying to separate the
literary from the overall linguistic" (ibid. 94), concluding: "My attempt to vindicate the right and duty of linguistics to direct the investigation of verbal art in all its compass and extent can come to a
conclusion: linguista sum", etc. (ibid. 93).
He did not hesitate to use strong terms: "I believe that the poetic
incompetence of some bigoted linguists has been mistaken for an inadequacy of the linguistic science itself" (ibid. 94). He firmly held
that linguistic analysis could by itself alone explain the difference
between poetic and non-poetic texts. Inversely, I should like to add,
linguistics needs poetics and other semiotic arts because they show that
language is not just the verbal communication medium that takes place
on the street, but also what is learned in school, modified and conditioned by poetics, literature, politics, etc. An example of the way
language use on all levels can be substantially affected by non-linguistic factors is the case of literary Czech, which toward the beginning of
the nineteenth century leaned toward sixteenth-century models (ibid.
64). This kind of phenomenon can affect the spoken language, too
(suffice it to mention the case of modern Hebrew, decisively conditioned by the religious will to return to the Bible).
Saussure's distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic is
akin to the Prague Linguistic Circle's and especially to Jakobson's
binomium of metaphor and metonymy, or again Jakobson' s distinction



between "the axis of selection" and "the axis of combination". "The

poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of
selection to the axis of combination. Equivalence is promoted to the
constitutive device of the sequence". Equally well known is Jakobson's distinction among linguistic or semiotic functions (ibid. 66): the
poetic function focuses on the message, which means that the message
becomes the dominant, though not the exclusive feature of the verbal
act (69). Hence linguistics must concern itself with poetic function
even outside literature (for instance, we could interject, in advertising,
religious cant, etc.).
True enough, the difference among language levels is not a sharp
one: an example could be the phonetic impact of rhetorical devices in
the language of advertisement, as shown by Leo Spitzer's famous
analysis of a Sunkist poster. Indeed, the language of advertisement
often makes a concentrated use of formal patterns, such as puns,
cross-references, innuendoes, parallelisms, and phonic schemata. It is
precisely this special use that often becomes the secret of the effectiveness of the message. Even though the message of advertising remains a practical one, the divergence from the practical dimension that
is also contained in the literary text (educational, instructive, moral,
political, rhetorical, etc.) is only one of degree. When we read in an ad
for the daily USA Today, soliciting telephoned inquiries on the plots of
currently broadcast soap operas: "Who fails to come clean on the
soaps?", the pun is most of the message. Great works of high literature
may contain a deeply committed concentration on formal values even
while they were conceived above all for their pragmatic value: the
critic may focus on the message, yet the author may have focused
precisely on the conative function, the impact on the addressee-and
of this the Divine Comedy, all consumed as Dante was with the hope
of changing history and the world, is a signal example. Petrarch' s
objection to Dante was mostly that he did not focus enough on "art"
and too much on the seriousness of the message.
Since some deny to applied linguistics and all applied science the
scientific character that should pertain to pure linguistics, we may
wonder whether, as applied forms, poetics and other literary disciplines are also in this predicament. More specifically, let us think of
the political conditioning of language use through educational policies
and practices, academic control and prescription, official standardization through politically-controlled mass-media and administrative and
legal practices (tribunals, legislation, etc.). This field of study, which
sometimes is called glossopolitics, is usually regarded as applied !in-



guistics, hence as not strictly scientific. But some linguists disagree,

insisting that, being a social matter, language is subject to social pressures not only episodically and exceptionally (to wit, e.g., among the
elite), but essentially.
Jakobson' s insistence on the tie between linguistics and poetics
extends, typically, to metrics, which in polemic with Seymour Chatman's statement that "the meter exists as a system outside the language", he regarded as a genuinely "linguistic phenomenon". 12 He
defined meter and rhythm as ''the normal coincidence of syntactic
pause and pausal intonation with the metrical limit'', so that word
division, grammar, and syntax would be an aspect of meter as well as
of sentence structure generally (''Linguistics and Poetics'' 1960/1982:
He found in parallelism (we can use the Greek term 'symmetry',
the Latin concinnitas, or the vulgate E. 'cadence', and recall the use
Morris W. Croll made of them) the general feature of which "rhyme
is only a particular, condensed case", and he relied repeatedly on
Gerald Manley Hopkins's pioneer remarks on its centrality ("Linguistics and Poetics" 1960/1982: 82). Citing Alexander Pope's "the sound
must seem an echo of the sense'', Jakobson insisted on the coupling of
phonetics and semantics, sound and meaning, form and referentiality:
"The relevance of the sound-meaning nexus is a simple corollary of
the superposition of similarity over contiguity. Sound symbolism is an
undeniably objective relation founded on a phenomenal connection
between different sensory modes" (ibid. 87).
Whereas the French structuralists considered their discipline only
capable of abstract, general statements, rather than specific critical
analyses, Jakobson engaged in a series of specific explications de
textes, all done in tandem with other scholars (Levi-Strauss for Baudelaire's "Les Chats", L. G. Jones, Paolo Valesio, and Stephen Rudy
for others). These explications were meant to show that, inside or
outside structuralism, linguistic analysis was the very stuff of literary
criticism-at least the kind of literary criticism which steers close to
linguistic categories understood in their broadest sense-all the grammatical phenomena, such as the phonological, the morphological, the
syntactic, and, of course, the semantic ones. This last category petitions for the inclusion of semantics within linguistics.
In Jakobson's perspective the poetic devices that center on linguistic features are phonetic (the 'figures of sound' or schemata lexeos
of traditional rhetoric), such as rhyme, assonances, alliteration, and
repetition, or semantic ('figures of thought' or schemata dianoias),



such as parallelisms, similes, metaphors and others. 13 My 1972 Classical Theory of Composition (German trans. 1981, 2 vols.) submitted
a broad view of the combination of grammar and rhetoric, to put into
perspective the historical development of the semantic and expressive
role of the ''figures of speech'', whose classical articulation leads
directly to Jakobson's schemas, to some extent only half-consciously
on his part. And I have given elsewhere a specific analysis of the way
his opposition between simultaneity and contiguity on the one hand
and metaphor and metonymy on the other was clearly anticipated in
eighteenth-century rhetorical speculation, with much more ancients
roots for its basic schema. 14
The term "poetics" does not limit the application of linguistic
categories to verse: literary prose is equally open to such considerations, and linguistic analysis should cover not only the linguistic
forms that correspond to the current or spoken language, but to the
most deviant variations, the most peculiar "stylistic" twists. Jakobson' s statement that ''une bonne theorie du langage do it pouvoir rendre
compte non seulement de la prose neutre mais des creations verbales
les plus sauvages" implies an important broadening of linguistic science.15
Even while he was arguing for the full integration of semantics
into linguistics, Jakobson also insisted that the social and human sciences can operate in analogy with the physical sciences, so that they
can be coordinated and even assimilated to one another, and that
linguistics will rightfully play a leading role within the semiotic sciences. In Main Trends of Research in the Social and Human Sciences:
Social Sciences (Unesco, 1970: 419-463) he offered his most effective
assessment of the place of linguistics among the human and vis-a-vis
the physical sciences, and he did so as one who believed in the possibility of coordinating and harmonizing the encyclopedia of the sciences-a task against whose possible pitfalls Stephen Toulmin, among
other thinkers, has not tired to warn us. 16
Adopting Jakobson's methodological approach to epistemology
postulates a value hierarchy for linguistic/aesthetic criteria. I can summarize the argument by referring to Malmberg ( 1983) on J akobson' s
law of hierarchy in the child's learning processes and in the use of
phonetic patterns. "[This law] issues automatically from the more
general principle of the hierarchic structure of human language, of
which for example one can recall that it is equally valid for the structures of syntagms. The open syllable is more general and appears
earlier in the infant than the closed one". In syntax, subordination is



harder to handle than coordination. "In truth, such a hierarchization is

also found outside language and without a doubt it dominates all organized activity with a semiotic function. Mastery of complex games
implies mastery of simpler ones''. 17
Linguistics since Saussure has been decidedly oriented in the direction of abstract universality rather than concrete particularitywhich was a more pressing concern for traditional linguistics, including nineteenth-century comparative philology. For Saussure language
was to be conceived as a semiotic system of basic rules independent of
the actual implementation or violation thereof in the performance of
individual utterances. The opposition langue!parole is in this respect
analogous to that of rule/behavior and competence/performance. But
poetic/literary discourse is characterized by unique implementation and
even violation of the rules. Structuralist criticism later implemented
linguistic analysis by looking for universal structural and semiotic
patterns even while (as "stylistic criticism") it looked for the individually and particularly unique. 18
In its attempt to tie linguistics with art, history, and aesthetic
phenomena, the Prague Circle was symptomatic of the trend toward
the humanities, whereas the pure linguists from Saussure to Bloomfield and Chomsky decidedly steered toward the physical sciences. 19
Even in spite of limited bibliographic information, the "Functional
Sentence Perspective" of the Prague School is being continued in
Czechoslovakia, especially by Jan Firbas (Firbas 1992a,b), who leans
on the early teaching of Vilem Mathesius, with such topics as the
distinction of theme and rheme, topic and comment, and the question
of word order. 20
Linguistics and literary criticism enjoyed a special kind of happy
marriage in literary stylistics, which was primarily a development and
application of Romance philology, but was also influenced by Formalism and then structuralism, especially of the Prague variety, as
with Leo Spitzer, Michael Riffaterre, and the most reductive, Michael
A. K. Halliday.
Claude Levi-Strauss brought the anthropological vantage point to
full fruition by applying Saussure's and the Prague Circle's concept of
structure to all human experiences, thus opening the way to a total
semiotic approach to epistemology. He proposed ( 1945) that the anthropologist follow the linguist by imitating "the phonological revolution''. And Roland Barthes ( 1967) later defined structuralism as ''a
mode of analysis of cultural artefacts which originates in the methods
of contemporary linguistics" (Culler 1975: 3). Concepts are not de-



pendent on reality, since language, the only clothing that concepts

receive, is non-referential qua system of arbitrary signs. Language is
an autonomous closed structure because its users do not determine its
form or meaning; the system does. Adopting an "intrinsic" approach,
structuralists concentrate on the immanent structure of the work without regard to its external meaning, hence as a code without a message,
after criticism had for so long regarded it as a message without a
code. 21 Linguistics is relevant to structuralist criticism thanks to the
"homology" between the Saussurian view of language as independent
of reference and reality (which follows, not precedes, the linguistic
utterance) and a view of literature as non-referential in that it freely
creates its message and its very world.
There is, however, a double direction to a structuralist discourse,
a subjective one and an objective one, since we may be speaking about
the structures inherent to the work or the mental structures of the
reader/addressee. For structuralists, literature is organized like language (not against, opposed to language, as for Russian Formalism).
Indeed, for Barthes language is the content of literature, while in 1972
he summarily stated that "in all its aspects culture is a language". It
bears noting that while Prague structuralism aimed at individual works,
the Parisian hew of structuralism focused instead on literature as a
whole, as a system of signs. It is therefore not surprising that, as has
been noted, this latter structuralism tended to remain rather general and
abstract, without being able to produce important analyses of individual works that really changed our understanding of their specific values. When all is said and done, one can conclude that structuralism
was functional in linguistics (and in anthropology), but its adaptation
to literary criticism produced rather inconclusive abstract schemas
when applied to literature as a whole, and petitions of subjective selections (the so-called dominants) when applied (as at Prague) to individual works.
In the structuralist wake, poetics and narratology brought literature back to language when seeking the "grammar" of literature (a
well-known example of this being Tzvetan Todorov's not very inspiring Grammaire du Decameron). Todorov suggested that the mind and
the world are like linguistic systems and operations. They have a
grammar based on linguistic structures. Reflecting this structural fact,
language is one form of this general grammar. Somewhat similarly,
Chomsky suggested that the human psyche is constructed in grammatical terms.
Barthes did not use such grammatical analogies. Eventually, he




came to reject the notions of system and homology with language as a

closed structure, and post-structuralism is said to have begun with his
1970 S/Z. In 1970 he was ready "to postulate the existence of a new
discipline, semiology (semiologie) or the science of meanings (significations)" .Z2 This discipline would encompass linguistics while being
distinct from it, and would use the broad concept of ecriture between
language and style, as a way of bridging the gap between langue and
parole on a larger scale than the purely linguistic one.
There was a sort of logical transition in taking the step beyond
structuralism. Lacan' .s and Derrida' s poststructuralist work carries to
fruition the structl!falist dissolution of the unity of the single work and
the decentering of its meaning. The New Critics' "ambiguity" had
become true polysemy at the hands of the structuralists, who denied the
presence of a unitary authorial intention in the work. A work does not
have one meaning only: irreconcilable points of view can coexist
within it.
In the meantime, Derrida had been proposing to replace semiology
with his '' grammatology'', independent of linguistics but to be guided
by Saussure's aper~u of a global science of signs that would have social
foundations.Z 3 Deconstruction completes Saussure's critique of referentiality by insisting on a view of language and all verbal expression,
including its literary facets, as self-contained, "logocentric".
Logocentrism and differance are key concepts in Derrida, differance being particularly ambiguous and subtle. Derrida sees logocentrism as philosophical "realism" (a belief in the outside reality of
mental substances and concepts), opposed to and betraying Saussure' s
view that ''in language there are only differences without positive
terms" (" dans la langue il n' y a que differences sans termes positifs"-Cours 166): it is denied by nonsubstantive differance. Derrida
privileges writing over phonocentrism, although for him literature is no
special discourse-which brings us further away from the Russian
Formalists' premises. Nor do philosophy and science represent superior uses of language, since they, too, are based on a logocentric
Derrida takes issue with both Saussurian linguistics and structuralism a la Levi-Strauss as being both logocentric in the sense of sharing
the "romantic" prejudice in favor of the primordial and "primitive"
in the form of spoken word. 24 In the dialectic tension between abstract,
fixed, and systemic langue, on the one hand, and, on the other hand,
parole as unique, individual speech acts constantly in a state of flux,
the text (written, whether or not literary) partakes of the status of both:



it is unique and yet fixed, showing the system behind the individual
cases. Grammatology goes beyond linguistics as a science of writing
and textuality, obviating the impasse and resolving the paradox of
langue and parole as well as the semiotic opposition of code and
message; the implementation of a science of "differences" would
include a linguistics of langue and a linguistics of parole. 25
Deconstruction is only the most radical form of a growing kind of
sophisticated skepticism about meaning in the traditional sense, which
has also been emerging in other hermeneutical schools, such as readerresponse theory, Rezeptionsiisthetik, and rhetorical criticism. To say it
with Jonathan Culler, "there is no meaning in the text except in a
context of interpretation" ,26 and for Stanley Fish we end up with "the
experience of a prose that undermines certainty and moves away from
clarity, complicating what has at first seemed perfectly simple, raising
more problems than it solves''. 27
We can recall that in Charles Sanders Peirce the sign extended
well beyond the word into a whole discourse or text. Carrying on in
this mood, Julia Kristeva has moved toward textlinguistics as a form of
new translinguistics (translinguistique) within which "text" would
replace "sign"). In this light Barthes, Greimas, and Kristeva have
been seen as stages in the evolution of French semiology toward a
general textual theory. 28
More can be said about the consequences of recent theoretical
work on the self-image of linguistics and its relationship with contiguous disciplines. Derrida's discussion of Austin's and Searle's theories
of speech acts shows that deconstruction has completed the process by
which criticism no longer does what it traditionally meant to do,
namely to explain and evaluate the literariness of specific texts. We
have reached the point where disciplines whose existence was once
justified on the basis of strict defi11itions have gone so far out of their
boundaries that their function becomes problematic. Linguistics is subject to the same questions. We can then wonder: Why criticism? Why
linguistics? What do they do? After linguistics has given up on the
presumption that it can make us speak better or more correctly, what,
specifically, does linguistics do, if anything, beyond analyzing and
defining? If it is a science, what specifically do we need it for? Speech
act theory points out that language utterances are not generally true or
false but go beyond the logic of statements to enter the pragmatic realm
of performance. ''Meaning is context-bound but context is boundless''
(Culler 1982: 128), and this raises the question of the infinite nature of
linguistic statements. Derrida subverts speech act theory, for which




literature is non-serious, non-ordinary, non-normal language, by insisting that all language use is subject to these same conditions and is
"serious" only in part. Figurative, symbolic, and metaphorical language is the norm, not the marginal exception, even in philosophical
For Saussure differences were still strictly binary and worked as
hierarchical antitheses: langue!parole, paradigmatic/associative or
syntagmatic, synchronic/diachronic, signifier/signified.Z9 For Derrida
they are more like eo-present, inherently ambiguous nuances, nonhierarchical and non-exclusive. His suggestion that any text be read as
literature opens up all possibilities of performative discourse, beyond
the cognitive, hence of seeing all possible levels of meaning in any
text. Yet, his focusing on literature does not privilege literature over
other discourses, as already stated, but is meant to regard the literary
as encompassing all genres, including philosophy and linguistics. Thus
Derrida provides a way to do a literary reading of philosophy and, vice
versa, a philosophical reading of literature, or a linguistic reading of
any discourse: in other words, he allows all discourses to communicate
with one another (Culler 1982: 185). Decisive is also Derrida's critique
of the Saussurian sign insofar as it refers and defers to a transcendental
(metaphysical) concept or object which is beyond the sign, since it is
behind the signified. Also, it repeats itself because the interpretant of
the sign is himself a sign and the signified is also, in turn, a new
signifier, and so on. 30
The linguistic study of poetics and literariness, which still lacks a
proper term, deserves more attention, whether or not we want to regard
it as part of semiotics (perhaps independent of linguistics proper even
while it clearly makes extensive and essential use of linguistic categories). In the meantime, I wish to suggest that it be conceived as
hinged on the question of the grammatical and semantic rules.
In 1965 Tzvetan Todorov repeated a well-established topos of
rhetorical speculation by proposing that we view rhetorical figures, an
essential aspect of literariness, as often being apparent deviations from
grammatical and semantic rules. Even while observing that this point
of view may derive from an incomplete description of grammaticality,
he concluded that ''rhetoric and good usage entertain a rather hostile
mutual relationship", that "the 'effects of style' ... could not exist
without opposition to a norm, an established usage", and that "poetic
language is not only estranged from good usage, it is its antithesis. Its
essence consists in the violation of linguistic norms". 31 True enough,
we might object that it is not the grammatical or semantic deviation



that by itself determines literary success, but the way it functions. The
rules that are violated are not the linguistic rules understood in the
deep, Chomskyan sense, but those of standard usage. Furthermore,
this rather traditional point of view is, in its context, a throwback to the
notion of defamiliarization that characterized Russian Formalism, and,
like other modern criticism (e.g., Theodor Adorno's, Waiter Benjamin's, and much Marxist criticism), it is a view that in a contemporary critical context derives essentially from the modern experiences
of transgression, revolution, and revolt. "Classical" art was not conspicuously based on violation but on the establishment of an excellent
example that would become, or aspire to become, "le bon usage" and
the norm-at least on the elevated level of literary, hence model usage.
Racine's famous line "La fille de Minas et de Pasiphiie" contains no
violation of any rule and no figure of speech at all, yet it has traditionally been quoted as an outstanding example of sublime literariness
or poeticity-simply by its rhythm. In other words, even in the framing
of basic definitions we are back to the need to historicize. Furthermore,
"deconstructing" such an interpretation might show that this privileging of transgression is a way of reading into literary custom the modern
politico/moral experience. Critical speculation could have a different
motivation in the past-for example, the need to emphasize the departure from the norms when the general critical stance stressed the
excellence of the "plain style", or prosaic virtues of expression. This
was the case when in the eighteenth century Jean-Antoine Du Cerceau
emphatically maintained that poetic style consisted simply of a systematic use of hyperbaton and inversion. 32 More generally, such observations imply violation of the basic rule of communication, namely
'clarity', one of the virtues of style in Aristotle's definition.
No one should object to the use of linguistic categories to define
the literary. The next step is suggested by Greimas 1972: the poetic
sign is a "complex" sign: it covers more, quantitatively and qualitatively, than ordinary and scientific discourse. We can add that poetics
needs linguistics but it also transcends it. This language- and linguisticbased type of literary criticism would be related to text-linguistics or
text-criticism of the kind that has emerged from the speculations of the
line Barthes-Greimas-Kristeva in France and the school of Tartu (especially Yury [louri] Lotman). It would have an intrinsic as well as an
extrinsic phase, this latter being turned toward the study of the work
within its social context, and the former being severally articulated into
prosody, rhetoric or stylistic, and narratology, depending on whether
it studies the phonetic level, the grammatical, syntactic, and semantic



level, or the object or content of literary discourse. 33 The intimate

bonds with linguistics appear all too obvious, and the gains would go
in both directions. 34 It is worth recalling that even on the purest linguistic level the step forward toward generative grammar was taken as
a result of Noam Chomsky's exposure to Jakobson's teaching at Harvard. To say it simply, Chomsky extended to "universal syntax" the
process that Jakobson was postulating for universal phonology, thus
introducing for the first time syntax into the definition of language
(previously it had been only part of "rhetoric"). The step toward
contextuality, consideration of "the whole text", seems to be a logical
application of this process. 35
I shall conclude with a note on an apparent paradox. The main
reason linguistics ought to be actively interested in literary criticism is
that literary criticism is no longer what it was traditionally conceived
to be: it is something much closer to what linguistics is and has been,
namely a discourse on speech and communication or, to put it differently, a form of semiotics. Deconstruction, more specifically, is semiotics because it does not tell us how to ''better understand'' a given
text or how to evaluate its specific aesthetic beauty, but how to receive
its communication as language.
New York University
Department of Italian
Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo
24 West 12th Street
New York NY 10011

11 was in the area of the ancient Greek and Latin classics that historical/comparative
linguistics, which became a model historical science in the early nineteenth century, was first
applied to literary study. The study of Plautus and Petronius is a good example of deriving
important information for linguistic history (the history of Vulgar Latin) from extant ancient
literary texts. This was part of "classical philology".
ln the variety of Marxist criticism that David Forgacs defines as "language-centered",
Macherey is said to come closest to this condition outside Russia. Cf. Forgacs' chapter on
Marxist criticism in A. Jefferson and D. Robey, eds., Modern Literary Theory (1982, 1991).
Unlike Macherey and Lukacs, Theodor Adorno accepts the epistemological value of art, but turns
it upside down as negative knowledge. In Russia Bakhtin's school went further, with Medvedev
and Voloshinov, and then, in France, though differently, with Julia Kristeva. Bakhtin conceived
the word as two-sided (intention and effect, speaker and listener), to wit, as dialogue, because,
unlike Saussure's parole, it is social. Bakhtin's 1929 Dostoevky deals with dialogue and free
indirect discourse, but not as equivalent: Dostoevsky's novel is polyphonic, the author does not
impose an authoritarian control over his characters, who speak and think for themselves even



without using different styles and the erlebte Rede that the authoritarian writer Tolstoy uses much
more methodically for different reasons. Literature is a practice of language within reality. Since
Bakhtin saw Rabelais's language as anti-authoritarian, we have here a poetics of individual rights
and of rebellion against authority. Language becomes more central than the ideological content,
the representation of reality, or factual knowledge.
In the history of language sciences linguistics and literary study developed hand in hand
from the earliest times. We all know that western grammar started with Dionysius Thrax, who
explicitly defined his discipline, namely grammar, as a tool for the reading of poetry.
Starting with a 1929 paper in the Travaux du Cerc/e linguistique de Prague I the Viennese
philosopher Kurt Biihler (he was a colleague of Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy at Vienna, and
is best known for his later and influential 1934 Sprachtheorie) contributed valuable insights to the
understanding of basic linguistic structures, including his distinction among the representative,
the expressive, and the conative function, fastening on the facts (object of the message), the
speaker, and the hearer. This looked forward to Jakobson's semiotic functions. See Malmberg
(1983: 282-287). Geoffrey Sampson (1980: 130) finds Biihler's contributions useful though overrated.
Eugenio Coseriu 1971 traces Aristotle's concept of meaning and Saussure 's concept of sign
as well as the relationship between language and thinking, and Koerner 1972 supplies an exhaustive bibliography on Saussure's concept of binary and arbitrary sign.
Wittgenstein, Tractatus 5.6 and 5.62, cited by de Mauro 26.
Malmberg (1983: 275f.) shows the typical gallocentrism of French scholarship when he
discusses the debate on what the Germans have referred to as Wort und Sache (the debate between
res et verba of clear humanistic ancestry since the fifteenth century) without reference to other
scholars than such French luminaries as Ferdinand Brunot (La pensee et la langue. 1922) and
Henri Delacroix (Le langage et la pensee. 1924, 1930).
My own studies of the linguistic tradition have revolved around the relationship between
grammar, rhetoric, and logic as part of the Trivium Arts and as the traditional aspect of the
relationship between language, thinking, and expression. Dealing with philosophical and psychological contributions, Malmerg concludes (1983: 261): "la connaissance pratique d'une
langue ne suppose pas la connaissance d' une somme de paradigmes grammaticaux isoles (qu' ordinairement le sujet parlant n'est pas capable de reproduire separement) mais celle d'une collection de type de Gestalt de nature morphologique et syntaxique".
Among Jakobson's contributions of practical criticism it may suffice here to recall the long
essay on "Grammatical Parallelism and Its Russian Facet," now in Language in Literature
(1987: 145-179). For the more theoretical kindsee, especially, his seminal "Linguistics and
Poetics" (1960), now in Language in Literature (1987: 62-94).
"11 y a un rapport entre son et sens qui a attire des le debut !'attention de Jakobson et qui
est reste pendant toute sa vie au centre de ses recherches. Jakobson a pu s'appuyer sur des
pn!decesseurs celebres en soutenant cette these antisaussurienne. 'De !'avis d'Otto Jespersen
(1916), le role de l'arbitraire dans la langue a ete infiniment exagere, et ni Whitney ni Saussure
n'etaient parvenus aresoudre le probleme de la relation entre le son et la signification' (Jakobson,
"A la recherche de !'essence du langage", Problemes du langage, Coli. 'Diogene', 1966, 26).
Et il cite dans ce contexte J. Damourette et E. Pichon, D. L. Bolinger et E. Benveniste"
(Malmberg 1983: 107).
"Le titre du petit ouvrage precite de Jakobson, Six ler;ons sur le son et le sens, est
caracteristique de ce jeu avec les phonemes et les syllabes doni on se sert toutes les fois que le
but de l'enonce n'est pas limite a un simple transfert d'information denotative" (Malmberg 1983:
107). Jakobson's chief contributions on this question can now be found in the volume Questions
de poetique (1973).




Jakobson. "Linguistics and Poetics" (1960/1987: 79). See Chatman, "Comparing Metrical Styles", in Thomas A. Sebeok, ed., Style in Language (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. P, 1960):
"Questions de p01itique 280-292 and other passages, and see Malmberg (1983: 108).
"The Trivium Arts and Contemporary Linguistics: The Contiguity/Similarity Distinction
and the Question of Word Order," HL (1983). The rich historical background to the connections
between rhetorical analysis and linguistic analysis remains largely unexplored. See, e.g., the
discussion of the ordering of the sequence loan and Margery (Jakobson 1987: 70), which I have
shown to correspond to "Beauzee's law" (see my 1979 paper), somewhat related to the ToblerMussafia law.
Malmberg (1983: 130), with reference to Todorov.
In placing linguistics in a central position among the social sciences and specifically the
semiotic disciplines, Jakobson continued the trend established by John Locke, C. S. Peirce,
Saussure, and Bloomfield. The UNESCO volume Main Trends of Research in the Social and
Human Sciences (The Hague: Mouton and Paris: UNESCO, 1970-1978, 2 parts in 3, pt. I, 1970)
places Jean Piaget and Jakobson side by side in an effort to define such relationships among the
sciences: see Piaget's Introduction, I: 1-57, also published separately as The Place of the
Sciences of Man in the System of Sciences (New York: Harper & Row, c1970, 1974). Jakobson
saw analogies and parallelisms among the sciences-e.g., between atoms and minimal linguistic
"Elle [i.e., la loi] s'ensuit automatiquement du principe plus general de la structure
hierarchique du langage humain dont on peut rappeler par exemple qu'il vaut egalement pour les
structures des syntagmes. La syllabe ouverte est plus generale et vient plus vite chez !'enfant que
la syllabe fermee. " 17 "En realite, une telle hierarchisation se retrouve aussi en dehors du langage
et domine sans doute toute activite organisee a fonction semiotique. Toute maitrise de jeux
compliques implique une maitrise de jeux moins compliques" (Malmberg 1983: 104). Malmberg
has further illustrated Jakobson's "law" in his own Signes et symboles (1977), eh. 14: 271-283.
Croce's schema was a special attempt to solve the problem of this basically "Hegelian"
predicament by postulating for art a "concrete universal" that would combine the universal with
the particular (in terms somewhat reminiscent of Aristotle's comparison between the particular of
historiography with the universal of poetry).
Sampson 132.
Andre Martinet (b. 1908), now emeritus from the Sorbonne as well as from the Ecole
Pratique des Hautes Etudes, back to Paris from Columbia and the Linguistic Circle of New York,
of which we are now celebrating the fiftieth anniversary, is known for his ''fonctionnel'' version
of Prague structuralism.
The phrasing is in Gerard Genette's Figures of Literary Discourse (Oxford-New York:
Basil Blackwell, 1982: 7).
Barthes (1970: 5). For a detailed account of structuralism's connection with Saussurian
linguistics and semiotics see Hawkes 1977.
De la grammato/ogie (1967: 74).
See Derrida, Grammatology, "Linguistics and Grammatology" (1977: 27-73) for his
critique of Saussure on the priority of the spoken language.
Malmberg (1983: 332).
J. Culler (1982: 76-77), with reference to critics who object to E. D. Hirsch 's distinction
between meaning and significance.
S. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature
(Berkeley: U of California P, 1972: 378). cited by Culler (1982: 79).



"Cf. Jeanne Martinet, Clefs pour la semiologie (Paris: Ed. Seghers, 1973), in Malmberg
(1983: 333).
My 1980b paper on Wolff and Condillac deals with Condillac's clear notions of the
linearity of language, arbitrary sign, and language as exclusive foundation for thinking and
communicating, hence, the necessity of the sign (this in contrast with Descartes and Locke but
in harmony with Christian Wolff).
Culler (1982: 187-188); see Derrida, Positions (1972, 1981: 29-30, 19-20).
""la rhetorique et le bon usage entretiennent des relations plutot hostiles" (Todorov 1965:
301); "les 'effets de style' ... ne pourraient pas exister s'ils ne s'opposaient a une norme, a un
usage etabli" (303); "la langue poetique est non seulement etrangere au bon usage, elle en est
l'antithese. Son essence consiste dans la violation des normes du langage" (305). Cf. Malmberg
(1983:331 ).
Cf. my Classical Theory of Composition ( 1972: 236-239).
I borrow from Malmberg (1983: 334-335) this summary assignment of the main tasks of
a general textologie.
For one rather trivial example, a critical awareness of the expressive, affective, and
emotive qualities of utterances, which is inherent in stylistic criticism, plays a role in pure
linguistics, too, as for the realization that if languages such as Spanish and Italian can express
emphasis or emotivity through the lengthening of vowels (and consonants), it is because these
languages do not know the distinction between long and short vowels on a linguistic (phonetic)
level. Cf. Malmberg (1983: 285). Of course the difference is one of degree, since languages that
do use the distinction phonetically can also allow expressive lengthening, as in E. ''I bought a big
fish at the market", with a long /i/ (a case of "continuous-scale" rather than "discrete" contrast).
Cf. Sampson (1980: 130-131). With reference to Paul Kiparsky ("Historical Linguistics", in Dingwall 1971: 33-61 at 52) Sampson 149 has argued that even in discussing synchronic issues the historical vantage point can correct wrong "universalist" inferences conducted
in a Chomskian disregard for diachrony. The issue was how to explain the loss of S, 0, or -y
phonemes in Modern Israeli Hebrew vis-a-vis Biblical Hebrew (where all stops [p t k b d g]
alternated with fricative counterparts [f 0 x vS -y)]), and Kiparsky's explanation was based on a
universal process of phonetic drift instead of invoking the impact of German (which only contains
[v x f] among fricatives) on Ashkenazic Jews.

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