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Sapir linguiste
Vers les problématiques
de l'iconicité et des performatifs
dans Language (1933)

Mandelbaum, p. 11

A further psychological characteristic of language is the fact that while it may be looked upon as a symbolic system which reports or refers to or otherwise substitutes for direct experience, it does not as a matter of actual behavior stand apart from or run parallel to direct experience but completely interpenetrates with it. This is indicated by the widespread feeling, particularly among primitive people, of that virtual identity or close correspondence of word and thing which leads to the magic of spells. On our own level it is generally difficult to make a complete divorce between objective reality and our linguistic symbols of reference to it; and things, qualities, and events are on the whole felt to be what they are called. For the normal person every experience, real or potential, is saturated with verbalism. This explains why so many lovers of nature; for instance, do not feel that they are truly in touch with it until they have mastered the names of a great many flowers and trees, as though the primary world of reality were a verbal one and as though one could not get close to nature unless one first mastered the terminology which somehow magically expresses it [1]. It is this constant interplay between language and experience which removes language from the cold status of such purely and simply symbolic systems as mathematical symbolism or flag signaling. This interpenetration is not only an intimate associative fact; it is also a contextual one. It is important to realize that language may not only refer to experience or even mold, interpret, and discover experience, but that it also substitutes for it in the sense that in those sequences of interpersonal behavior which form the greater part of our daily lives speech and action supplement each other [2] and do each other's work in a web of unbroken pattern.

[1] Préfigure la problématique de l'iconicité du langage.
[2] Préfigure l'émergence de la Pragmatique et la problématique des performatifs.


Baudelot = Edward Sapir, Anthropologie, traduit de l'américain par Christian Baudelot et Pierre Clinquart, Paris, éd. de Minuit, 1967; rééd. Paris, Seuil, collection Points, 1971.

Boltanski = Edward Sapir, Linguistique, traduction de Jean-Elie Boltanski et Nicole Soulé-Susbielles, Paris, éd. de Minuit, 1968; rééd. Paris, Gallimard, collection Folio, 1991.

Mandelbaum = Edward Sapir, Selected Writings in Language, Culture, and Personality, Edited by David G. Mandelbaum, Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1949; paperback ed., 1985.