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Lexical Transfer in the novels of Boris Vian - Dissertation by Geoffrey Dearson

Chapter 1 - Influences upon attitude and technique
Chapter 2 - Stylistic dominants of Vian's work, with particular reference to his novels
Chapter 3 - The extent of Vian studies to date (1976)
Chapter 4 - Lexical Transfer

Excerpts from Master of Arts Degree Dissertation G.J. Dearson submitted while at the University of Wales, UK. (reproduced with the author's permission.)

Chapter 1 - Influences upon attitude and techniqueBack to top

1.1. Boris Vian, Polymath

Virtually all of Boris Vian's multifarious activities exhibit a similar characteristic: one of inventiveness. It is this quality of variability that, perversely, forms a constant throughout the disparate pursuits of his brief yet highly active life.

Vian's interests and activities have been the subject of much unauthenticated report, both journalistic and apocryphal, with the result that a certain unqualified flippancy and superficiality have often been unjustly attributed to his literary output, in the light of "inter alia" his involvement in jazz and his Ubuesque activities in association with the College de 'Pataphysique. The extent to which Vian was consistently original, innovative and dedicated in his articulation of artistic expression can now, however, be judged. […] Far from being a mere "touche à tout" Vian may fairly be termed a polymath, allying indisputable talent with seriousness of purpose.

His fascination with the technical possibilities of communicative media as well as of concrete "realia", is clearly discernible throughout his biography, and we shall take account here of such influences and events as illuminate Vianesque technique in general and idiosyncratic literary usage in particular.

1.2. Early Influences

Boris Vian was born on 10th March, 1920, into a prosperous upper-middle-class family in the fashionable Paris suburb of Ville d'Avray, near Versailles. His father, Paul Vian - of provencal extraction - having converted his bronze "objets d'art" business into gold bullion, speculated in turn on the stock-market and lost the majority of his fortune during the Wall Street crisis through dealing in latex rubber from Cochin-China; obliged to seek employment, he became in 1933 a representative for homoeopathic medical products; subsequently, in 1939, he became canvasser for a firm of estate agents, and, in November 1944, he was shot and killed in his Ville d'Avray home by burglars ironically in search of the long-vanished Vian riches.

Despite the decline in his material wealth, Paul Vian's many talents and his philosophy of life remained unimpaired and were certainly influential in shaping those of his son, Boris. Vian père was proficient in metalwork, carpentry, electrical installation, wrote poetry and did amateur translations from English and German.

Apart from obvious thematic influence upon Vian's oeuvre, we may distinguish certain paternally inculcated attitudes: respect for craftsmanship, interest in "bricolagé, esteem for flair, and an individualistic, even eccentric, philosophy.

Vian's mother (née Yvonne Fernande Louise Alice Ravenez in Neuilly-sur-Seine) was similarly influential in stimulating Boris's interest in music: she was an accomplished pianist and harpist, and had at one stage considered a career as a professional singer at the Opera. (In addition, from the age of nine to twelve, Boris was a friend of young Yehudi Menuhin - two years his senior - whose family rented the Vian's rue Pradier villa, the latter having moved into the smaller lodge.)

1.3. Education

Vian was educated privately at home until the age of five, by which time he was a fluent reader.

In 1932 he attended the Lycée Hoche in Versailles, and transferred three years later to the "Etudes Classiques" section at Condorcet where he passed his "baccalauréat Latin-Grec" ("avec dispensé). In 1937 he passed his "baccalauréat Philo-Maths" and, after two years as "taupin", entered the "Ecole Centrale (des Arts et Manufactures)" on 6th November, 1939. He passed his final diploma examination (placed 54th out of 72 candidates in the Metallurgy section) and left on 26th June, 1942.

1.4. Social Life

Life at Ville d'Avray was marked by regular social gatherings and "surprises-parties" at which family, friends and neighbours would perform party-pieces or engage in various surrealistic parlour-games, such as "bouts rimés" and "cadavre exquis".

This latter game, whose amusement derives from random association of words (the equivalent of English "consequences"), was a favourite and exalted pastime of surrealist writers in France, who indeed laid claim to its invention. In a similar way, the writing of "bouts rimés" necessitates the linking in sentences of semantically unrelated words in final position of alexandrines, thus making considerable demands of ingenuity upon the author. Boris Vian was to maintain a file of these "bouts rimés".

Boris remained a close friend of François Rostand and, more especially, of his father Jean - the celebrated biologist and Academician (son of the author of "Cyrano de Bergerac"). It was in fact to Jean Rostand that Boris dedicated his first-published novel "Vercoquin et le Plancton", and by Jean Rostand that Boris was introduced to his friend, Raymond Queneau, who, on behalf of Gallimard, accepted "Vercoquin" for publication in 1945.

1.4.1. Raymond Queneau

Great mutual respect and admiration existed between Vian and Queneau, to the extent that features of "queneautiqué literary language" (e.g. popular and scientific neologisms, blurring of oral/ written distinctions In orthography and morpho-syntax, etc.) are to be found in Vian's writings, whilst it has been claimed that Queneau was the most appreciative of Vian's readers. Certainly, Queneau and Vian were often to be seen in each other's company in the cellar-bars of Saint-Germain-des-Prés from 1945 onwards. [In December 1951] they were both founding members of the first French Science-Fiction society, "Le Club des Savanturiers"; from 8th June, 1952 until his death, Vian numbered Queneau among his esteemed professional colleagues in the College de 'Pataphysique.

In January 1953, Vian's novel "L'Arrache-coeur" appeared with a flattering foreword by Queneau, and the posthumous "Dossier 12", published by the College de 'Pataphysique a year after Vian's death, contained a short yet moving contribution from Queneau entitled "Boris Vian Satrape mutant".

1.5. Non-Literary Influences and Interests

Vian's proficiency in mathematics and particularly calculus spawned a host of related intellectual pursuits.

Thus, a mathematical treatment of language itself […] often effects a transfer from reference to abstraction, and the character of works themselves becomes more arbitrary than determined in proportion as the permutational possibilities of conceptual systems inherent in language are exploited by the author, in parody of Aristotelian "logical" (but, in Vian's view, arbitrary) categories.

Vian was introduced to the Collége de 'Pataphysique by the publisher of his 'Vernon Sullivan' detective novels, Henri Robillot. The College was established, in memory of Jarry, to advance the "Science of Imaginary Solutions", to further the study of exceptions to the rule and to develop original thought having no practical application. A good part of Vian's researches at the Collége was directed to the semantic analysis and remotivation of idioms, clichés and proverbs.

Vian's interest in chess is significant for his manipulation of language, since a finite set of rules may generate infinitely many permutations in both cases. The familiar analogy drawn between chess and language was first formulated by Saussure: "A game of chess is like an artificial realization of what language offers in a natural form".

On 24th August, 1942, Vian commenced employment as "ingénieur" at the "Association Française de Normalisation" (AFNOR), an organization roughly equivalent to the British Standards Institute, though with powers of enforcement. On 15th February, 1946, he resigned to enter the "Office Professionnel des Industries et des Commerces du Papier et du Carton" (OPICPC). This employment was terminated by mutual consent in August, 1947, when income gained from sales of the Vernon Sullivan novel "J'irai cracher sur vos tombes" provided financial independence. Vian's posts at both AFNOR and OPICPC were virtual sinecures and afforded ample opportunity for writing: "Vercoquin et le Plancton" written at AFNOR travesties the frozen register of regulations and the pedantic nature of bureaucratic attempts at standardizing trivia, whilst "L'Automne de Pékin", completed (like "L'Ecume des Jours") during Vian's term at OPICPC, is rich in technical lexis.

From 1956 onwards, Vian's documents attest principally to the influence of Korzybski's theory of "general semantics" and present a reaction against the Existentialist views of Sartre and Camus, particularly those relating to "engagement".

The question of when Korzybski's influence can first be detected in Vian's work has been discussed at length but remains as yet unresolved: it is accepted that Vian actually purchased Korzybski's "Science and Sanity" (1933) as late as 1956, but there remain two strong possibilities that Vian "discovered" Korzybski considerably earlier.

The English edition of Van Vogt's "The World of Non-All", published in 1945, contained a three or four page introduction to Korzybskian theory. Vian himself was to bring out a French translation of this science-fiction novel in 1953, and is known to have possessed a copy of the original edition at least as early as 1950.

Bachelard had devoted forty pages to Korzybski in his "Philosophie du Nor", published in 1940.

It is therefore possible that all of Vian's six novels - written between the years 1942-1951 - may have been influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by Korzybski's theory of "non-Aristotelianism". However, since characteristics of style corresponding to such non-Aristotelianism (e.g. disregard or transcendence of "logical categories", and avoidance of predicating properties or attributes of nouns in copular constructions), are present in Vian's juvenilia, it is preferable to see, in his attraction to Korzybski, support for an already formulated attitude to language rather than a genuine formative influence, and an extension rather than acquisition of non-essentialist (i.e. existentialist) philosophy.

Chapter 2 - Stylistic dominants of Vian's work, with particular reference to his novelsBack to top

2.1 Literary Output

In the fourteen year post-war period (1946-1959 inclusive) Boris Vian averaged, each year, more than 39 completed pieces of work intended for publication: his total literary output (i.e. 1940-1959 inclusive) amounts to some 570 items 25, the peak year being 1949 when, quite apart from newspaper articles (27 to "Combat" and 5 to "Jazz News"), Vian completed just over one item per week.

Not only is Vian's output voluminous, however, but it is also extremely diverse. His literary forms exhibit the following range: poetry, novels, plays, short stories, translations (from English), radio-scripts, film-scripts, sketches, fairy-tales, thrillers, periodical and newspaper articles, reviews, public lectures, a philosophical treatise, chronicles of the jazz scene, ballet scenarios, opera libretti, letters, numerous outline plots, pedagogic writing and a vade mecum to St. Germain-des-Prés…

There is a distinct emphasis in Vian's oeuvre upon the performative aspect of literature, and, in the works themselves, upon operational definition of meaning. Allied to these factors, and indispensable to their appreciation, are Vian's conception of literary style, his use of language, and his method of working.

2.2 The Example of Céline

Vian's view of the relationship between language and literature is strikingly similar to that of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and many features characteristic of Célinian prose are present in Vian's novels.

Vian disclaimed the direct influence upon him of Céline, although in a private note concerning his own method of working, he wrote in 1951 praising Céline. […]

There can be no doubt that sociolinguistic variation does enrich prose style through connoting at the same time as denoting. Since, moreover it is characteristic of basolectal usage to create new items of vocabulary - either through the introduction of a totally new lexeme or through derivation from the standard language according to popularly established morphological patterns - it is not surprising to find a high incidence of popular and vulgar lexical neologism in Céline's novels. Such neologisms we may consider to be indexically motivated: concerned as much to illuminate the character or attitude of the speaker as to convey cognitive information.

These features of Celinian syntax, register and lexis are also present in Vian's prose: lexical neologisms abound in all of the six novels (although the influence of Queneau is more relevant in relation to scientific neologism); "Vercoquin et le Plancton" is a virtual exercise in register, whilst much of the comedy of "L'Automne a Pékin" derives from sociolectal contrasts; and syntactic fragmentation in the form of ellipsis and left and right-branching constructions is sufficiently frequent to be considered a stylistic dominant of Vian's prose, a particularly fine example being contained in the interior monologues of Clémentine in "L'Arrache-coeur".

Finally, and more generally, Celinés statement of the need to counteract or compensate for what he described as "literary refraction" (precisely to eliminate Derrida's notion of "différence") is highly significant.

This analogy is paralleled by Korzybski's insistent declaration (echoing Sapir and Humbold before him) that "The map is not the territory ... (languages) must be considered only as maps which have the same relation to the external reality as maps do to the geographical terrain which they picture. The accuracy of the map is determined in its structural resemblance to the territory it represents."

The same view of language is clearly shared by Boris Vian, who not only frequently alludes to the Céline-Korzybski tenet but also implements in his novels the linguistic procedures considered necessary for communicating an evolutionary, and therefore subjective, apprehension of reality.

Chapter 3 - The extent of Vian studies to date (1976)Back to top

A review of major academic studies and articles devoted to Vian.

Since David Noakes' pioneering doctoral thesis of 1963 (published 1964), there has been a steady growth in Vian study, with a dramatic increase in academic interest (reflected in the number of dissertations and theses registered) since 1972. According to Michel Fauré, there were in 1976 dozens of theses registered throughout the world, including 15 in France and 20 in the USA.

Vital Gadbois has isolated those that bear broadly, some more particularly, upon Vian's literary language. He lists 15 in France, 3 in the USA, 1 in Belgium and 1 in Canada. At present, only 2 theses are in progress in Britain, neither of which is directed specifically to Vian's language.

In our consideration, below, of completed doctoral theses up to, and including, 1976, we shall pay particular attention to the extent to which areas of linguistic interest have (or have not) been illuminated.

David Noakes: Boris Vian. PhD. New York. 1963 Spub. Ed. Universitaires. Paris. 1964)

This work, described by the author as an "essai de définition" is, perhaps inevitably, highly biographical with over a third of the text devoted to Vian's life. Separate accounts of themes and symbols present in each novel - except "Trouble dans les Andains" - are given, and constitute rather less than half the book.

The remaining two short chapters deal with the Vernon Sullivan novels and the plays respectively.

Noakes points to Vian's "fantaisie du langage", and shows how he adapted certain Surrealist procedures in conveying his vision.

Noakes cites the frequent instances of unfamiliarity, to the reader, of everyday objects exhibiting "illogical" or "unnatural" attributes or behaviour - in particular those deriving from what he calls "sur-animatory"… Noakes is here referring, in non-technical terms, to lexical transfer in general.

Michel Rybalka: Boris Vian. PhD. California. Minard. Paris. 1969

Although chiefly concerned with narrative structure - particularly the "mise en abymé technique resulting from reduplicated characters - Rybalka's study does contain a short (nine page) account of Vian's distinctive use of language.

Rybalka distinguishes three phases in the evolution of Vian's six novels: in TA and VP, language is used parodistically, to question the conventionai values of the world; in EJ and AP, language becomes an instrument of personal research into the author's multi-faceted, or fragmented, identity.

Since we are not concerned here to discuss authorial intentions but rather linguistic effects, we need not comment on this over-simplified view. Rybalka's analysis of Vian's attitude to language does, however, bring to light a number of features of purely linguistic interest. When it is claimed that, in Vian's novels, words are treated as autonomous and independent of their meaning, it is clearly intended that they are not semantically bound: lexis and morpho-syntax are not subject to semantic constraints, with the result that Vian mixes "le concret à l'abstrait, le naturel au culturel".

This informal reference to the transfer of lexical categories is further supported by mention of Vian's predilection for juxtaposing "deux réalités verbales qui sont incompatibles": the contrast of particular and universal meaning; psychological versus cosmological time (and space), and literalization of figures of speech. Particular linguistic devices employed by Vian, and listed by Rybalka, include puns, spoonerisms, idiosyncratic spelling, morphological neologisms (through affixation or syncope), gender changes and paraphrase (described as "disguised expressions").

Annie Lois Gibson : Boris Vian and the Literature of As If, PhD, Texas (Austin) 1969

This study of Vian's plays analyzes the structure of his "langage-univers" in terms of Korzybski's "General Semantics" and the Whorfian hypothesis.

Gibson characterizes Vian's work as "a revolt-against an intellectualism which analyzes and theorizes about 'la condition humaine' and 'ultimate reality' primarily through the medium of language whose nature may not be understood. Language should be recognized as a mere tool and potentially distorting medium of expression, argues Vian, and to this end he "projects the fixed perceptions of reality, codified in language, in the form of metaphor, by changing the analogical into the concrete. His universe is a model, in the scientific sense, of the process of abstracting in reverse."

Gibson points to the use by Vian of several stylistic devices, although she does not give precise definition to them. However, the greater part of these may be subsumed as instances of lexical transfer arising from Vian's disregard of the selectional restrictions imposed by lexical subcategorization rules: for example, motivation and literalization are clearly inferred by the reference to "the abundant use of cliché and conventional metaphor turned back on themselves; the transfer of semantic features ±HUMAN, ±ANIMATE, by the informal remark that animals may be mistaken for people, and inanimate objects behave as if they were alive. Gibson also refers to "making up songs and meaningless rhymes" and to the lore of language in general as Vianesque techniques of highlighting how clichés and jargon deny individuality or identity to the speaker. Such instances of semantic demotivation, producing generalized descriptions, magnify the tendency of language to order human experience into fixed - and therefore potentially inappropriate categories.

Vital Gadbois : Le jeu verbal dans "L'Ecume des Jours" de Boris Vian. Questions de Méthode. Doctorat de 3e-cycle. Aix. 1972.

This study seeks to itemize instances of "word -play", occurring in one only of Vian's six novels, by means of lists or "séries" under six broad headings: jeux de lexique; jeux de majuscules; jeux de grammaire; jeux sur les syntagmes figés; jeux de mots et sur les mots; jeux de sens.

Since these lists, however, do not present hierarchically ordered categories, the criteria for their establishment are inevitably called into question - despite the vast theoretical prolegomena (of three chapters), unrelated to Vian's language itself that precedes the data analysis proper. Gadbois himself admits that, ultimately, selection is by intuition. The work nevertheless represents the first analysis of Vian's language to appear, and contains a wealth of data, undeniably useful taxonomic inventories and descriptions, and an extensive bibliography of 444 entries.

J.E.E. Brooks: The Function of Myth in the Novels of Boris Vian. PhD. Ohio. 1973.

This thesis contains little to interest the linguist or stylistician, being concerned to demonstrate the fragmentation of self and other represented by Vian's "double characters" in their progressive fall from a mythic heaven of youthful imagination. Brooks describes the chronological evolution of setting in Vian's novels, contrasting "Life in the Garden" with that in the City and the Desert.

The role of language is seen as parallel to this evolution: "The youthful exuberance of language mirrors initially the unimpeded flight of the double and the dream of myths that will be self-creating, creations of the self. In "Vercoquin et le plancton", language is a refuge from the realization of partial failure in the world and a potential weapon for reshaping that world. The continuation as written by Vernon Sullivan is a dead letter informed by the dead time levied by the double in a taboo-ridden, hardened magma (...) The completed birth of language as the external expression of an imagined escape is already present in "l'Ecume des jours".

Lydie Jeannette Haenlin: Analyse rhétorique du discours romanesque de Boris Vian. PhD. N.Y.Buffalo. 1973.

This is the most systematic study of Vian's literary language in general yet [1976] undertaken, analyzed in terms of Liége school "rhétorique générale".

Two fundamental linguistic operations are isolated: adjunction and suppression - or their combination (permutation). These operations are considered at different linguistic levels. Five broad categories of "métaboles" (or figures of speech) are established [...] They are:

a) métagraphes - alteration at the level of spelling

b) métaplasmes - alteration at the level of morphology

c) métataxes - alteration at the level of syntax alteration

d) métasémèmes - at the level of semantics

e) métalogismes - alteration at the level of logic

Whilst Liége school theory undoubtedly constitutes a powerful analytical model, subjective criteria are nonetheless invoked in the intuitive determination of non-standard language.

Impressionistic views of this kind are obviated by the adoption of a transformational-generative approach to sentence structure. TG theory provides a more powerful linguistic model and affords greater explanatory adequacy. The apparently intractable problem of defining a linguistic (or stylistic) norm is overcome by the analysis of sentences into their deep structure components of kernel sentence plus obligatory (Declarative/Interrogative/Imperative) and optional (Negative/ Emphatic/Passive) modalities.

We shall take brief account here of Haenlin's [findings]:

Métagraphes are found in words, acronyms, syntagms and foreign expressions.

Métaplasmes - occurring at the level of allophone, phoneme, morpheme, lexeme and syntagm. - 13 literarisms in Direct Speech are found, and 45 instances of borrowing from German, English, Spanish, Greek, Italian or Latin are recorded.

Métataxes - Three examples of enumeration or "accumulation" are given, two of ellipsis, and eight of "permutation" comprising archaic, poetic, anglicized or popular syntax.

Métasemèmes - Haenlin notes a reduction of the semantic field of certain words, by means of the suppression of certain contextual sememes, and gives examples of catachresis. A more powerful framework of analysis would consist of treating such instances in terms of lexico-semantic transfer, viz ± LITERAL, ± ABSTRACT. The following "tropes" are distinguished and exemplified: metaphors, synecdoches, metonymies, syllepses and similes. Metaphors are by far the most numerous. Approximately fifty metaphoric expressions are given, nine examples of synecdoche, four of metonymy and nineteen of simile. Metaphor, by definition, involves the transfer of lexical attributes, e.g. ±ANIMATE, ±HUMAN, ±ABSTRACT, ±CONCRETE, etc whilst synecdoche often entails the transfer PROPER > COMMON or TECHNICAL > USUAL (in, for example, instances of antonomasia and periphrasis respectively). It is therefore preferable to subsume the various "métasemèmes" isolated by Haenlin in a framework of lexical transfer that will permit higher order generalizations and therefore a more comprehensive description of Vian's distinctive use of language.

Métalogismes - Haenlin uses this term to refer to alteration at the level of logic or referentiality. The criterion invoked is that of contradiction of "le bon sens", and it is argued that resultant parody highlights the arbitrary nature of linguistic structures.

On the one hand) such "métalogismes" may be seen to derive from the breaking of selectional rules in the lexicon, as illustrated in Chomsky's classic "colorless green ideas sleep furiously", where lexical transfer is said to occur; on the other, logical incompatibility of collocated terms may be accounted for by the view that "part of the semantic component of a grammar must be a characterization of field properties that is outside the lexicon". In either case the linguistic analysis is more rigorous than when based upon a mere "common sense" criterion.

The chapter devoted to Vian's use of slang provides numerous examples of morphological, syntactic, lexical and semantic alteration, all involving a shift of register from mesolectal to basolectal.

In using technical terms, concludes Haenlin, Vian is basically attempting to neutralize the persuasive power of literary discourse by attacking language. This is at the same time a revolt against the manipulative forces of society.

Kalman Antal Muller: The Distortion of Reality in the Fiction, of Boris Vian. PhD. Arizona. 1973.

Muller's thesis is that distortions of reality in Vian's novels occur at both stylistic and thematic levels. In the early novels) there is a relatively higher incidence of gratuitous word-play, but gradually this is "transformed into a stylistic tool which calls into question the accepted bases of verbal convention. Words, expressions and linguistic logic were distorted with increasing awareness in order to question a psychological reality built up upon language."

Muller sees three distinct cycles in the evolution of Vian's novels: TA + VP; EJ + AP; AC + HR. In the first cycle, linguistic inventions are judged to be ends in themselves, although VP contains effective distortions, linguistically achieved, of the. themes of love and work. The second cycle contains linguistically-based distortions of the themes of existentialism, work, religion and love, and Muller claims that "It is in L'Automne à Pekin (AP) that we found the greatest degree of verbal distortion.

The final cycle, argues Muller, is chiefly concerned with the development of ideas, AC differing from the previous novels in the "diminished importance given to verbal play". This work is, however, extremely rich in lexical neologisms, and Haenlin's findings (vide supra) do not support Muller's claim. Nonetheless, it is accurate to describe HR as relatively less linguistically innovative than the remaining five novels.

France A.C. Peterson: La Notion du bonheur chez Boris Vian. PhD. Alabama

Peterson demonstrates the similarity between Ancient Greek Cynical thought and its conception of happiness and those of Boris Vian. These similarities are undoubtedly striking, although […] it is more accurate to suggest that he was influenced by the modern continuation, in Korzybski, of an ancient debate - nature/convention or Realist/Nominalist.

It is asserted that, although the term "Nominalism" was not introduced into the language until the 13th century debate of Realism vs Nominalism, the movement may be considered to have begun with Antisthenes in the 4th century B.C. The Realists maintained that only abstractions and ideas were real because universal and because they express the essence of everything; on the other hand, the Nominalists maintained that the universal, the abstract, is merely a name and that only the particular exists. In these terms, Vian is clearly a nominalist.

Other formal similarities between the Cynics' work and that of Vian are revealed: both exploit paradox, the diatribe, satirical portraits or caricatures, aphorisms, farce and literary pastiche.

Peterson's concluding remarks suggest possible reasons for Vian's posthumous popularity - he is prophetic of the growth of ecological studies and of sexual liberation.

Joyce Block Boris Vian : a study of the ambivalent tone in his novels. PhD. Harvard. 1974.

This is a study of four of Vian's "most outstanding. stylistic tendencies which suggest different facets of his vision of life; an abundance of sensorial descriptions, a preoccupation with the fantastic, a tone of black humor and of the grotesque, and a delight in word-play.

Block distinguishes, reflected in these stylistic tendencies, two major preoccupations:

a) revolt against the world's absurdity, injustices, corruption in the form of authoritarianism and fanaticism- military, religious or bureaucratic - and all forces restricting individual enjoyment of life.

b) revolt against "a depreciation or misuse of language, against ready-made platitudes and fossilized expressions which have no relation to the reality they attempt to describe and the construction of "a poetic language and universe not bounded by conventional logic and reason, one which is based on the unlimited resources of the imagination".

At a phonological level Vian employs new phonetic spellings of both standard and foreign lexemes and acronyms; homophones and contrepéteries are frequent, and Block sees affinities with Roussel, Breton, Desnos, Joyce and Queneau (but, surprisingly, not with Prévert). Vian, however is closer to Joyce, argues Block, than to Roussel and the surrealists, in wishing to extend meaning rather than create mystery or exoticism. Against this view must be set the fact that, according to Michelle Léglise-Vian, Vian had not read Joyce's "Ulysses".

At a syntactic level, Block notes "distortions of conventional proverbs, platitudes, and phrases", whilst at a semantic level, what we should describe as motivation of "syntagmes figés", and lexico-semantic transfer respectively are described: "verbs whose metaphorical force has been exhausted through overuse, become active verbs, expressing a visible activity ", and "Vian also creates new auditory and tactile images by his concretization of metaphorical phrases".

Block also points to Vian's use of contradictory terms (what we have referred to above as 'logical incompatibility'), of reductio ad absurdum', and of tautology.

In conclusion, she describes the environment of Vian's novels as "characterized by bizarre metamorphoses of inanimate elements and by a language-which appears as a dynamic, aggressive force, working against man, trapping him in semantic pitfalls.

Pierre-Gilbert Pestureau : L'Influence Anglo-saxonne dans l'oeuvre de Boris Vian. Doctorat de 3e cycle. Paris-Sorbonne. 1974.

This thesis studies the influence upon Vian's prose of English and American language and literature, and assesses the cosmopolitanism of the author. It is extensively documented and contains a full bibliography, filmography, iconography and discography.

Of principal interest for lexical analysis is the fifty-third chapter devoted to [...] neological anglicisms used by Vian that are not found in the Petit Robert.

Pestureau makes the point that the use of anglicisms is much greater in the Vernon Sullivan novels and jazz articles than in his "serious" novels [but that the] incidence of anglicisms in the latter is the more significant.

3.1.1. Books

To date (1976), ten publications, in book form, devoted to Boris Vian have appeared.

1964 - Noakes'

1966 - Noël Arnaud, Jean Clouzet

1969 - Rybalka

1973 - Henri Baudin, Michel Gauthier

1974 - Alfred Cismaru

1975 - Michel Fauré

1976 - Jacques Bens

3.1.2 Articles

Jacques Bens (Un Langage-Univers) distinguishes three basic methods employed by Vian in his linguistic innovation: literalization, morphological neologism and lexical neologism.

Régis Boyer: Prévert, Queneau, Boris Vian, Ionesco. [A study of wordplay In these four authors.]

Jennifer R. Walters : The Disquieting Worlds of Lewis Carroll and Boris Vian. This essay argues that both Carroll and Vian exploit the fact that "Rational man lives in a verbal structure which has, of its very nature produced a more sophisticated system of logic than the human mind normally uses. She maintains that the work of both authors is ruled by "linguistic logic", and, drawing examples from EJ, AC and the play "Les Batisseurs d'Empiré, she distinguishes numerous instances of what we should term lexical transfer. No linguistic analysis is given, and Walters' findings are chiefly interesting for such metaphysical considerations as solipsist narration and subjectivity versus objectivity.

Michael G Lerner : Boris Vian's L'Arrache Coeur - some comments on his style. This vague and impressionistic article, although ostensibly directed to Vian's prose style as revealed in a 5-sentence corpus from AC, is in fact chiefly concerned with thematic elements of the novel. The poor punctuation of this short account unfortunately produces numerous instances of ambiguity or lack of significance, and many inexactitudes result from prolixity: e.g. " the use of metonymic personnification (sic) for abstract things and the juxtaposition of this personalised temporal abstraction referring to Jacquemort's reaction emotionally to recent events with the physical reaction of his body expressed synecdochically in concrete terms serves to dissolve and fuse the man into his sensations."

Alain Costes : Vian et le plaisir du texte. This is a compelling psychocritical analysis - in Freudian terms - of the literary enactment of the practical joke in Vian's work. Costes argues that Vian's work evinces a gradual progression from practical to poetic joke from realisation of a hoax to its representation or its verbal sublimation.

Costes suggests that the phonaesthetic appeal of Vian's verbal innovation serves to camouflage its semantic impact: the usage is naive when phonologically motivated, often giving rise to humour in the adult listener.

3.1.3. Summary

From our survey of ten doctoral theses devoted to Vian we are able to establish that informal references to lexical transfer appear in eight - the exceptions being Brooks (1973) and Peterson (1973). However, although Vian's language is nowhere left entirely out of account, it is the object of systematic study in only three theses: Gadbois (1972 - relative to EJ only, Haenlin (1973) and Pestureau (1974).

Chapter 4 - Lexical TransferBack to top

4.1. General theories of lexis.

The theoretical basis for lexical study in Britain has been determined largely, in the last twenty years or so, by the writings of Firth and the "neo-Firthian" M. A. K. Halliday.

The Firthian view of grammar and lexis as closed and open systems respectively has achieved widespread acceptance, and appears also to have gained experimental support in the field of developmental psycholinguistics, where a corresponding separation of language into "pivot" and "open" classes has been distinguished.

Since, according to the Firthian view, lexis is grammar-independent, meaning is therefore contextually determined (by collocation), and acceptability of collocation is commensurate with "received" distribution: the distribution of common words may be classified into general or usual collocations and more restricted technical or personal collocations. Thus, a notion of grammatical acceptability is rejected in favour of a criterion of usualness. Firth contends that if collocations are "unique and personal", then they are "a-normal" and "must be referred to the personal stylistics of the poet."

We should prefer to say that such deviations from a conventional or theoretical norm, in fact constitute the style of an author. Moreover, objective descriptions of stylistic features require a theoretical framework of great refinement - one that does not ignore the fact that language is a rule-governed activity, and which permits both high order generalizations and delicate analysis of subsets.

Halliday, utilizing the two fundamental (Firthian) categories of collocation (syntagmatic association of lexical items) and set (paradigmatic grouping or collocational spread) does not see grammar and lexis as mutually exclusive levels but argues that "Not only may the lexical item be coextensive with more than one different grammatical unit; it may not be coextensive with any grammatical unit at all, and may indeed cut right across the rank hierarchy."

In a later article, Halliday suggests the introduction of a criterion of lexicalness "to parallel that of grammaticalness" and declares that the linguist's principal concern should be to state collocational patterns with an adequate degree of abstraction. He wonders, however, whether this can best be achieved within or outside the framework of the grammar. Extending Firthian theory, he admits an intermediate lexico-grammatical level and states that "in lexicogrammatical statements collocational restrictions intersect with structural ones".

However, he has now created a fresh division between the lexical (frequency of collocation) and the lexico-grammatical (acceptibility of collocation), and, perforce, stresses the importance of both) since "It is not known how far collocational patterns are dependent on the structural relations into which the items enter."

The problem is left unresolved, and lexical analysis according to Firth/Halliday principles remains limited to corpus based statistical statements. A further article, entitled "Beginning the study of lexis", published in the same Festschrift to Firth, even goes as far as to maintain that "Grammar is hardly any help at all".

4.2. A transformational-generative approach to lexical analysis.

One of the earliest articles directed to lexical study under the TG paradigm was P.H. Matthews review of Lees' "Grammar of English nominalizations" in 1960. This article deals in particular with the place of collocational restrictions in a transformational grammar. However, in view of the relatively primitive state of elaboration of TG theory at the time - derived almost exclusively from Chomsky's "Syntactic Structures" (1957) - Matthews' assumption that collocational restrictions are independent of grammar can be seen, with hindsight, to be unfounded. Similarly, his conclusion that it is important to attempt a separation of lexical and syntactic levels is difficult to accept in view of later theory regarding selectional restrictions in the lexicon.

Chomsky himself, however, writing at approximately the same time shows the indissociability of grammar, and lexis and points to the value of TG theory for stylistic analysis 'in which the degree of grammaticalness (or grammatical deviation) would serve as a kind of stylistic index. He gives as examples Dylan Thomas's phrase "a grief ago", and Veblen's "perform leisure", and comments "In such cases', and innumerable others, a striking effect is achieved precisely by mans of a departure from a grammatical regularity.

Acceptable collocation is therefore objectively determined in relation to the application of progressively refined hierarchically-ordered selectional rules: these rules result from subcategorization to the extent that "each category can be characterized by what we can now (given the grammar) recognize as a semantic feature of some sort.

These semantic features are referred to as "Syntactic features" in "Aspects of the Theory of Syntax" (1965) where they are given much fuller treatment. (One should also note in passing the following variant terms employed by different linguists - "lexical attributes" "lexical features", "semes" "semantic markers", etc.),

Chomsky recognizes the problem of "cross-classification" arising from the use of rewriting rules alone to effect lexical subcategorization, and proposes, by way of solution, that lexical entries should be represented in a distinctive-feature matrix, with each semantic feature or lexical attribute either positively or negatively specified in a binary value system (a device suggested by Prague school phonology). [Technical terms deleted.]

Further refinements are, of course, possible and additional lexical oppositions may be introduced, according to the delicacy of analysis required.

4.3. Lexical transfer

Lexical transfer in general may occur at word, phrase or sentence level. For example, individual lexemes may be substituted according to a sociolectal scale in favour of other relatively more or less formal ones; these are essentially shifts in register, lexically achieved, and have the following categories: technical/literary, familiar, popular, vulgar. Again, lexemes may be substituted in favour of dialectal (including foreign) items; this phenomenon is usually, but inadequately, treated as a case of lexical neologism, whereas it is best regarded as diatopic variation, the term 'neologism' being reserved for phylogenetic change, in a diachronic perspective. Similarly, relatively infrequent lexemes in the standard language (non-vogue words) are best characterized as archaic or obsolescent. There is thus an obvious relation between the synchronic perspective of register and the diachronic perspective of neologism and archaism: acrolectal usage always "lags behind" the contemporary standard language, so that a characteristic feature of "la langue soutenué" is its slight obsolescence. Expressed in more trivial terms, today's innovation is tomorrow's standard. In Vian's prose, therefore, the contrasts of popular and archaic French jar both synchronically and diachronically: the most formal language is the most fossilized (in terms of Joos' "styles" or "registers"), and the most casual is, conversely, the most recent and dynamic.

At a syntagmatic level, lexical substitutions may occur in precisely the same way as that outlined above, i.e. by a shift in register or currency of an extended lexical unit.

So far we have been discussing lexical transfer achieved through substitution of lexemes or syntagms. An important distinction must now be drawn between lexical transfer in general and lexico-grammatical transfer.

4.3.1. Lexico-grammatical transfer

Lexico-grammatical transfer does not involve substitution of a lexeme (or syntagm), but the substitution through collocational attraction of lexical attributes of a given lexeme (or syntagm) (cf. 4.2. above). That is to say, a lexeme is drawn into the semantic orbit of a second lexeme with which it is collocated, but with which it lacks lexico-grammatical compatibility.

Effects of lexico-grammatical transfer are traditionally described, in literary terminology, as "personnification", "dehumanizationt" "reification", "metaphor", "synecdoche", "catachresis", and so on, and one would expect Chomsky's classic "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" to be labelled "surreal", "paradoxical", "ambiguous", "absurd" or possibly even "satirical". Here then, a TG model of linguistic analysis permits an objective substantiation of hitherto largely subjective and approximate descriptions of textual effects. Such "tropes" as listed above can be accounted for in terms of lexico-grammatical transfer. The utility of applying TG grammar to literary criticism in general is increasingly recognized by scholars such as Fowler, Lehmann, Lester, Ohmann, Thorne, etc.

A further type of lexical transfer remains to be considered - that of lexico-semantic transfer. This occurs when the polysemous nature of a lexeme is exploited and is also considered to occur when a "syntagme figé" is motivated. We prefer, however, to regard the latter case as an instance of lexico-grammatical transfer, FIGURATIVE > LITERAL.

Note: Geoffrey Dearson's final chapter (Data Analysis) and the notes at the end were not read well enough by my OCR software to be able to be included here.