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This is a book that all students of linguistics and/or the philosophy of language should at least be aware of, but unfortunately its relative obscurity and "out-of-printness" makes this difficult. Pecheux was a devoted student of Louis Althusser for many years, and in this book he pulls heavily from his mentor's theoretical toolbox to write what is supposedly his "radical" critique of the practice of semantics by contemporary linguists. Pecheux's central thesis is that semantics, or the treatment and study of meaning, is a philosophical issue rather than a linguistic one. Like a scuttling crab at the "edge" of linguistics, semantics becomes a "spontaneous philosophy" that jumps from the edge of linguistics, absorbs the ideologies and interdiscursivities around it, and becomes an instrument of dominant interests without the awareness that it is doing so. To really "get to meaning," then, students of semantics must also be students of ideology and be well-versed in (though not taken in by) the philosophy of the subject. Pecheux parallels Foucault in his awareness of the historicity of meaning, and the implication of power in semantics. Pecheux's argument is an extension of Althusser's theories into the study of language: he proposes that complex systems of dominant ideologies historically articulate meaning, on a constant basis, via the "interpellation" of various "subject positions" that are modulated by idealism, on the one hand, and materialism, on the other. Ideology creates the subject with a built-in natural interpretation of meaning, then, and not the other way around.Read more ›
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