Article published in:History of Linguistics 2008: Selected papers from the eleventh International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS XI), 28 August - 2 September 2008, Potsdam
Edited by Gerda Haßler
[Studies in the History of the Language Sciences 115] 2011
► pp. 277–288
La phrase expliquée aux sourds-muets
Remarques sur la syntaxe chiffrée de l’abbé Sicard
Abbé Sicard is the inventor of a highly uncommon method for syntactic parsing, originally intended for his “deaf-mute” students. The purpose of this method was to lay bare the logical structure of a sentence by means of a cipher mapping its constituents to numerical values. This “numerical analysis of proposition”, which Sicard described as a “theory-practice”, substituted a combinatorial system based on numerical values for the traditional metalanguage of grammatical functions. Outlandish as it may seem at first sight, Sicard’s project did achieve a fair amount of success at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, to such extent that its application to general teaching was envisaged. In this paper, my primary interest will be in the discrepancy between, on the one hand, a theoretical analysis of propositions which relies on the existence of a copula and claims to provide a syntax for the “language of gestures” (“langage mimique”), and, on the other hand, the fact that the language of Sicard’s deaf students presents no functional analog of a copula. As a consequence, Sicard’s analysis met with the open resistance from teachers of specialized schools for the deaf. This opposition found additional support in observations made by orientalists, and their objections eventually helped undermine the universalist assumptions which characterized dogmatic versions of Grammaire Générale.
Published online: 22 April 2011
Cited by 1 other publications
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