Le mot Culture et la parole chez Sapir


On distingue trois phases dans l'œuvre de Sapir:

  • disciple de Boas jusqu'en 1916 (l'ethnologie comme inventaire des traits spécifiques d'une culture);
  • à partir de 1916 analyse de la subjectivité, de la création individuelle et de l'inconscient collectif (Culture et personnalité);
  • en 1927 émerge le thème du «psychiatre dont a besoin l'anthropologie» (naissance d'une anthropologie «clinique»).

Le contraste est frappant entre l'article de 1924 sur l'authenticité des cultures et ceux de 1927 puis 1932–1934 sur le langage et l'inconscient.

Edward Sapir, Culture, Genuine and Spurious (1924); Mandelbaum, 308–331

(308) The word "culture" seems to be used in three main senses or groups of senses.

[1. la civilisation, ensemble de croyances, connaissances et comportements traditionnels]
First of all, culture is technically used by the ethnologist and culture-historian to embody any socially inherited element in the life of man, material and spiritual. Culture so defined is coterminous with man himself, for even the lowliest savages live in a social world characterized by a complex network of traditionally conserved habits, usages, and attitudes [...] each being retained for a given time not as the direct and automatic resultant of purely hereditary qualities but by means of the more or less consciously imitative processes summarized by the terms "tradition" and "social inheritance." [...]

[2. une «personne cultivée»]
The second application of the term [...] refers to a rather conventional ideal of individual refinement, built up on a certain modicum of assimilated knowledge and experience but made up chiefly of a set of typical reactions that have the sanction of a class and of a tradition of long standing. Sophistication in the realm of intellectual goods is demanded of the applicant to the title of "cultured person," but only up to a certain point. Far more emphasis is placed upon manner, a certain preciousness of conduct which takes different colors according to the nature of the personality that has assimilated the "cultured" ideal. [...] Aloofness [le quant à soi, une attitude distante ou réservée] of some kind is generally a sine qua non of the second type of culture. Another of its indispensable requisites is intimate contact with the past. [...]

[3. l'«esprit» ou le «génie» d'un peuple]
The cultural conception we are now trying to grasp aims to embrace in a single term those general attitudes, views of life, and specific manifestations of civilization that give a particular people its distinctive place in the world. Emphasis is put not so much on what is done and believed by a people as on how what is done and believed functions in the whole life of that people, on what significance it has for them. The very same element of civilization may be a vital strand in the culture of one people, and a well-nigh negligible factor in the culture of another. The present conception of culture is apt to crop up particularly in connection with problems of nationality, with attempts to find embodied in the character and civilization of a given people some peculiar excellence, some distinguishing force, that is strikingly its own. Culture thus becomes nearly synonymous with the "spirit" or "genius" of a people, yet not altogether, for whereas these loosely used terms refer rather to a psychological, or pseudo-psychological, background of national civilization, culture includes with this background a series of concrete manifestations which are believed to be peculiarly symptomatic of it.

Noter l'origine allemande de cette troisième définition de la culture, sur laquelle s'est construite l'école Culture et personnalité. Noter la dialectique entre contenus manifeste (concrete manifestations) et latent (background). La suite du texte confirme l'adhésion de Sapir au spiritualisme de cette conception allemande de la culture, quand par exemple il développe le thème de l'authenticité: the relative genuineness of the culture which forms its spiritual essence. Cependant, il s'en démarque déjà par l'intérêt qu'il porte à l'affectivité individuelle.

(316) The major activities of the individual must directly satisfy his own creative and emotional impulses, must always be something more than means to an end. The great cultural fallacy of industrialism, as developed up to the present time, is that in harnessing machines to our uses it has not known how to avoid the harnessing of the majority of mankind to its machines. The telephone girl who lends her capacities, during the greater part of the living day, to the manipulation of a technical routine that has eventually high efficiency value but that answers to no spiritual needs of her own is an appalling sacrifice to civilization. As a solution of the problem of culture she is a failure—the more dismal the greater her natural endowment. [...] A culture that does not build itself out of the central interests and desires of its bearers, that works from general ends to the individual, is an external culture. The word "external," which is so often instinctively chosen to describe such a culture, is well chosen. The genuine culture is internal, it works from the individual to ends.

Dans les textes qui, à partir de 1927, préfigurent la constitution d'une nouvelle méthode «clinique» (si l'on permet cet anachronisme) en anthropologie, je distinguerai deux principes: l'individualisme méthodologique, et une anthropologie de l'énonciation (anachronismes supplémentaires). Individualisme méthodologique:

Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry (1932); Mandelbaum, 515

The so-called culture of a group of human beings, as it is ordinarily treated by the cultural anthropologist, is essentially a systematic list of all the socially inherited patterns of behavior which may be illustrated in the actual behavior of all or most of the individuals of the group. The true locus, however, of these processes which, when abstracted into a totality, constitute culture is not in a theoretical community of human beings known as society, for the term "society" is itself a cultural construct which is employed by individuals who stand in significant relations to each other in order to help them in the interpretation of certain aspects of their behavior. The true locus of culture is in the interactions of specific individuals and, on the subjective side, in the world of meanings which each one of these individuals may unconsciously abstract for himself from his participation in these interactions. Every individual is, then, in a very real sense, a representative of at least one sub-culture which may be abstracted from the generalized culture of the group of which he is a member. Frequently, if not typically, he is a representative of more than one sub-culture, and the degree to which the socialized behavior of any given individual can be identified with or abstracted from the typical or generalized culture of a single group varies enormously from person to person.

L'anthropologie de l'énonciation est préfigurée dans les textes où Sapir part de la parole pour analyser la culture, comme en 1927 (Speech as a Personality Trait) où il analyse successivement les cinq différents «niveaux d'articulation de la parole» (levels of speech):

• la voix proprement dite,
• la dynamique de la voix (l'intonation, le rythme, la continuité de la chaîne parlée),
• la prononciation,
• le vocabulaire,
• et cinquièmement, le style.

A chaque niveau de l'analyse on distingue la mise en œuvre individuelle (l'énonciation) des configurations sociales de la parole. Plus encore:

The social level, moreover, has generally to be divided into two levels, the level of that social pattern which is language [autrement dit, «la langue» dans la mesure où elle est mise en œuvre dans «la parole»] and the level of the linguistically irrelevant habits of speech manipulation [autrement dit, les aspects sociolinguistiques de la parole qui ne relèvent pas de la linguistique formelle mais intéressent l'ethnologue] that are characteristic of a particular group (Mandelbaum, 540).

Ce que nous appelons aujourd'hui «l'énonciation» se situe au cinquième niveau d'articulation de la parole: le style, en ce qu'il trahit les enjeux du discours et la position du locuteur.