Medical Semiology and Linguistic Semiology

  • Georges Mounin
Part of the Topics in Contemporary Semiotics book series (TICSE, volume 158)


Reading Francois Leguil’s thesis1 is discouraging at first. Each page is a reminder of the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of real communication between neighboring disciplines, for lack of a common language. It is indeed the same French, the same words, the same (or nearly the same) grammar, but it is never (or almost never) the same language. We appear to be speaking of the same concepts, yet we almost never seem to be referring to the same thing. Leguil, strongly marked by the most fashionable styles (Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Michel Serres), is almost elusive on the essential points because of the generality of his formulations or the esoteric usage of too many metaphors, his own and those of his models (“objects are looking at us,” p. 141; “it is the light which looks at us,” p. 143; etc.). These metaphors. moreover, frequently hide truisms; for instance, “in somatic medicine the thing seen is the zero degree of the sign,” meaning by this that as long as we have not found the explanation of an indice, it has no signification. One can only remark, regarding these authors as well as Leguil, that the tendency to obscure what needs to be clarified is an ailment of the times. How odd to seek the definition of the symptom in Merleau-Ponty, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, without noticing that these minds, so rich and so brilliant, have fallen back on the most obsolete academicism, pedantic intellectualization, and superficial word-play! It must be said at the outset that if physicians, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts really want a dialogue with linguists and semiologists, they will have to seek alternate means of expression, scientific ones, that is,—as Lanteri-Laura has done,for instance, or as Leguil himself does at times (for the clinical signs of measles and scarlet fever, pp. 43–44).


Free Association Scarlet Fever Linguistic Community Word Sign Fashionable Style 
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  1. 13.
    See D. M. MacKay, in Robert A. Hinde, Non-Verbal Communication (Cambridge: 1972), pp. 3–25.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    G. Mounin, Linguistique et philosophic (P.U.F., 1975), pp. 98–99.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georges Mounin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ProvenceAix-MarseillesFrance

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