Delocutive “bougre” and Its Lessons for Historical Pragmatics

Delocutive “bougre” and Its Lessons for Historical Pragmatics

The concept of delocutive, first described by Benveniste in 1958 (Fr. délocutifs; see an overview in Larcher, 2003), has enjoyed increased scholarship in recent decades and represents a “growing” area of research, in Romance etymology in particular (Buchi & Dworkin, 2019, §6). At the interface of discourse and lexicalization, delocutivity merits greater attention in pragmatics, as it is an area of lexical creation originating directly in concretely situated fragments of discourse, rather than in other linguistic signs. Operating by “pragmatic metonymy” (Jansen & Hoffmann, 2015), delocutives encode utterances into lexemes, whether conventionalized or nonce, potentially passing through a change of grammatical category (Benveniste’s now canonical example being the Latin verb salutare‘salus!’). In situations of language contact, cross-linguistic delocutives are uniquely revealing about the communicative situation, as they may occur independently of speakers’ knowledge of the source language from which they innovate (Nahon, 2018, 217, 221-22). The case of French bougre presents layered interest for historical intercultural pragmatics: 1) Diachronically, bougre underwent semantic and axiological evolution from its original meaning ‘heretic’, ‘sodomite’ (< bulgarus, where Bulgarians represented the prototypical heretics in medieval Gallo- and Italo-Romania) toward desemantized and discourse-function usages, including as swearword or interjection, with remarkably parallel, though independent, developments observed in related terminology in Italian (buggerare) and English (bugger); 2) Cross-linguistically, French oral use of bougre is captured in several historical situations of language contact, with both Spanish and German, where bougre was reinterpreted by pragmatic metonymy to designate the people who said the word – that is, the French themselves were referred to by out-group speakers as “bougres.” The video poster will present a brief overview of this delocutive value of bougre, indicative of higher-order indexicality, as emerging from the textual documentation and identified in Lo Vecchio (2020, 73-75, 83-84).



Buchi, É. & Dworkin, S. (2019). Etymology in Romance. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.441.

Jansen, S. & Hoffmann, R. (2015). Du français aux créoles – à travers la communication ? Créolisation, délocutivité et métonymie pragmatique. In Du français aux créoles. Phonétique, lexicologie et dialectologie antillaises, ed. A. Thibault (pp. 129-68). Paris: Classiques Garnier.

Larcher, P. (2003). La dérivation délocutive. Histoire d’une notion méconnue. Historiographia linguistica 30(3), 389-406.

Lo Vecchio, N. (2020). Dictionnaire historique du lexique de l’homosexualité. Transferts linguistiques et culturels entre français, italien, espagnol, anglais et allemand. Strasbourg: ELiPhi.

Nahon, P. (2018). Emprunts ou délocutifs ? Un cas de contact ‘hiérolectal’. Le français moderne 86(2), 215-24.

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