Benveniste, Emile

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BENVENISTE, EMILE (1902–1976), French scholar of language theory and comparative grammar. Holding a chair at the College de France from 1937 to his death, Benveniste was extremely influential on French theorists in various domains of linguistics and literary criticism, such as Gerard Genette for narrative discourse and Roland Barthes, Tzetan Todorov, and Michel Riffaterre in the field of poetry theory. Benveniste's linguistics perpetuates the heritage of his master, Antoine Meillet, and that of Ferdinand de Saussure, though his theory of communication notably diverges from Saussure's. Benveniste published profusely, but his most influential essays and theories are collected in the two volumes of his Problèmes de linguistique générale, in the first volume of which key dichotomies are proposed: "je/non-je" (I/non-I), "histoire/discours" (story/discourse). These concepts are central to modern narrative discourse as well as communications theory: they help define the larger dichotomy between objective and subjective utterance.

Another crucial dichotomy is to be found in the chapter "Sémiologie de la langue" in the second volume: the dichotomy of "semiotic" (related to the sign) and "semantic" (related to discourse).

[Dror Franck Sullaper (2nd ed.)]