Charles Bally

Charles Bally

The most prominent scholar of the Geneva School of Linguistics was Ch. Bally, who had been working for a long time together with F. de Saussure at the Geneva University and after his death delivered a course of lectures on general linguistics. In 1909 he published his significant work “French Stylistics” and in 1932 “General Linguistics and Issues of French”. In the introduction to his books he stressed the necessity of a systemic approach to language. He wrote “In the system everything is interconnected: as far as language is concerned it is correct to such a degree as in other systems”. However his idea about language as “a systematical and harmonic construction” is wrong. Nearly every language “is torn by some partly contradictory tendencies”. These tendencies Ch. Bally tries to reveal both in French and German. Besides, there is also “a constant disagreement between the form of a sign and its meaning, between spoken “signifiers” (i.e. sound patterns) and mental “signifieds” (i.e. concepts).

The cause of such a language disharmony Ch. Bally explains fully in accordance with the ideas of “the Course” by F. de Saussure. “Languages constantly change, but they can function only without changing. At any moment of their existence they turn out to be products of temporary equilibrium. Consequently, this equilibrium is a resultant of two opposite forces: on the one hand, which is incompatible with a normal language use, and on the other – active tendencies pushing this language in a certain direction. The force of tradition is by itself proportional to the unity of language”. In particular, “French, strictly observing traditions has willy-nilly to evolutionize to meet the needs of permanently changing thinking and life, however it jealously preserves the relics of nearly all the periods of its development”.

However everything said does not mean the lack of system in language. “Nevertheless a constant language development shows that our thought incessantly assimilates, associates, compares and contrasts the elements of language material and no matter how different these elements arc, they arc not only compared in memory but interact with one another; mutually attract and repel and never remain isolated; such an incessant play of action and counteraction eventually leads to the formation of a sort of unity, always temporary, always reversible but real”.

More than any of structuralists Ch. Bally followed F. dе Saussure in understanding synchrony and diachrony. He wrote that the definition of system “makes us study language at any given state, at any given moment, which is our moment for our speaker. The idea of state is abstraction but the abstraction which is necessary and natural, as the speakers of a language arc not aware of its revolution. To connect Modern French with its different previous stages and try to interpret each language phenomenon by facts which have resulted in what we have nowadays is a sure way to distort the perspective and give a caricature instead of the picture of today’s language state”.

Fully accepting Saussurеan differentiation of language and speech Ch. Bally unlike F. de Saussure did not restrict his studies within the framework of internal linguistics. He was interested in the issues connected with speech activities in which “the utterance of thought with a language help occurs”. Among various “forms of thought information” a sentence is singled out as the simplest one. That is, a sentence is not a language unit thought; it is formed with the help of language.

A sentence, according to Ch. Bally, consists of two parts: dictum and modus supplementing it. Dictum corresponds to the idea perceived by “feelings, memory and imagination”. With the help of dictum “judgement of fact is expressed”. Modus expresses “different shades of feeling and volition”. The majority of sentence members usually refer to dictum, modus is concentrated, above all, in a modal verb. Modal meanings may be expressed both in a lexical word meaning, verbs in particular (to be afraid, to think, to suppose etc.) and in grammatical indices, e.g. mood. In differentiating dictum and modus Ch. Bally distinguishes two types of language meaning: connected with denoting the reality (imaginary inclusive) and connected with speaker’s attitude to it.

The most important role in Ch. Bally’s conception plays the notion of actualization introduced by him. Language system and its units, words in particular, function only potentially. For a word denoting a notion as any other linguistic unit to enter speech, it must be actualized; without actualization a word cannot become a sentence member. “To actualize a notion means to identify it with a real idea of a speaker”. A potential word means a certain class of things, and an actualized word in speech – a concrete thing or a multitude of things. “Actualization of notions is, thus, converting them into reality…this reality may be not only objective, but also mental, imaginary. Thus, the “function of actualization is in converting language into speech”.

According to his opinion “language serves the necessity of communication in the case, if it allows rendering thought with a maximum of accuracy and minimum efforts for a speaker and hearer. Language approaches this ideal by means of regulation and simplification, which aim at automization of a maximal quantity of linguistic operations and converting them into the sphere of subconscious. This approach simplifies the situation to a certain degree as it takes into account the needs of a hearer who is, in need of differentiation.
Ch. Bally’s book enjoyed great popularity, many ideas and notions introduced by him have been firmly rooted in linguistics.

His other book “French Stylistics” is also well known as he was the first in world science to define the aims and tasks of Stylistics as a particular branch of linguistics. Stylistics was understood by Ch. Bally from the point of view of learning common phenomena for all the speakers of a certain language, which are, above all, connected with the expression of affective categories, the emotional language aspect. This book also contains one of the first experiences of presenting phraseology learning as a particular linguistic discipline; the suggested classification of phraseologisms hasn’t lost its significance till nowadays.