Prepositions, reflexive verbs and middle voice

A new point of view on linguistic subjectivity in Émile Benveniste

  • Aya Ono Keyo University
Keywords: Benveniste, subjectivity in language, dans et par, s'historiser, middle voice


Émile Benveniste published one of his most prominent articles, “De la subjectivité dans le langage” in 1958, presenting his idea on “subjectivity in language” in a clear and decisive form. While many historians of linguistics consider this notion as the fruit of his study on deictic, in particular as found in “Nature des pronoms” (1956), we attempt to present another filiation of the idea, focusing on an article published in the same year: “Remarques sur la fonction du langage dans la découverte freudienne” (1956). Our comparison between the two articles shows how the former emphasizes the consistency of the doubled “je [I]”, while the latter accentuates the discrepancy the speaker or the “sujet parlant” experiences. Our objective consists in, first, discerning some nodal expressions forming this discrepancy, which surface conspicuously when Benveniste attempts to define the relation between the subject and the language. Secondly, we focus on the two expressions – a syntagm “dans et par” and a reflexive verb “s’historiser” – and examine their occurrences thoroughly in Benveniste’s texts. Lastly, we argue that the relation between the subject and the language represented by these two expressions could be summarized by the idea of the “middle voice” in Benveniste, where, according to his own definition, the subject is in the center of action-state at the same time as being the author of the action.