The death of linguist Jean-Claude Coquet

Linguist and semiotician of international renown, Jean-Claude Coquet died in Sceaux (Hauts-de-Seine), on January 16, at the age of 94

The death of linguist Jean-Claude Coquet

Linguist and semiotician of international renown, Jean-Claude Coquet died in Sceaux (Hauts-de-Seine), on January 16, at the age of 94.

His beginnings were difficult. Born in Sens on March 29, 1928, he grew up in the petty bourgeoisie of the place. Fatherless at the age of 16, without support, Jean-Claude Coquet built himself up alone, relentlessly, obtained his baccalaureate late, around the age of 21, worked to finance his studies and obtained the grammar aggregation in 1957, soon defending his thesis of doctorate.

Appointed director of the Maison de France in Uppsala, Sweden, Coquet learned the Swedish language, but left the diplomatic branch when he was elected, in 1964, assistant at the Faculty of Letters of Poitiers, where, since 1962, Algirdas Julien Greimas (1917-1992) is a professor of French linguistics. The meeting is decisive. And the master soon entrusted him with students interested in semiotics, when, with the help of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009), he was elected to the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (1965).

Phenomenological language approach

Coquet, a warm teacher and free from any pedantry, revealed himself to be the dispenser of an approach to literature that radically renewed that of Gustave Lanson (1857-1934), held to be the founder of literary history as a discipline. The same year 1965, Coquet discovered the courses of Emile Benveniste (1902-1976), holder of the chair of comparative grammar at the College de France since 1937 - except during the Vichy regime - where he became increasingly involved. clearly in the field of general linguistics and the theory of language.

Assistant professor in Poitiers, Jean-Claude Coquet was recruited in 1969 with the same title to the French literature department of the Experimental University Center of Vincennes, which would become Paris-VIII University, then Paris-VIII - Vincennes-Saint-Denis. It was there that he taught until becoming emeritus in 1996.

A specialist in narrativity and discursivity, he defends a very phenomenological approach to language centered on the subjective dimension of the instance of enunciation. Actively participating in the great debates on structuralism, formalism and phenomenology in semiolinguistics, this great connoisseur of Valéry and Claudel, who developed leading literary analyses, also accompanied Michel Deguy, Hélène Cixous, Henri Meschonnic and Noëlle to Vincennes. Batt, participated in the semiolinguistic research group within the social anthropology laboratory of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and the Collège de France, founded by Greimas, where he rubbed shoulders with Roland Barthes, Gérard Genette, Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov.

Modal grammar

From a reaffirmed epistemological base (Aristotle and Merleau-Ponty), the semiologist develops a method of language analysis where he claims Benveniste as his master - when the latter chairs the Cercle de sémiotique de Paris, bringing together linguists, anthropologists , psychoanalysts and historians, Coquet is its secretary. He has, by his exceptional longevity, been able to be both the actor and the privileged witness of all the remarkable development of the human sciences of which linguistics is then the generating source and the methodological referent.

His scientific contribution is decisive. First building up a modal grammar (The Discourse and its subject), it proposes an unprecedented semiotics, called "subjectal semiotics", to distinguish it from standard, "objectal" semiotics (that of Greimas). But what most accurately designates his work is the "theory of instances", and the elaboration of a phenomenology of language, developed in Phusis and Logos. A phenomenology of language (PU de Vincennes, 2007), and in his final work, a collection of recent but difficult to access articles, chosen and edited by Ahmed Kharbouch and Michel Costantini, with an almost identical title (Phenomenology of language, ed. Lambert- Lucas, 2022).

However, his demanding choices and the complexity of his theory of instances undoubtedly explain, despite a strong international influence, his low notoriety, compared to that of other semioticians of his generation, such as Greimas, Barthes or Eco.