Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Literature. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 September 2023



  • Russell SmithRussell SmithSchool of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics, Australian National University


Enunciation refers to the act of making a spoken or written statement, as opposed to the content of the statement. It is associated with the work of French linguist Émile Benveniste, whose Problems in General Linguistics (1966) argued that formalist and structuralist accounts of language fail to pay sufficient attention to the fact that many of the core elements of any language, such as the pronouns “I” and “you,” are entirely dependent for their function on the unique circumstances in which they are enunciated. Enunciation thus describes the process by which a speaker or writer takes up the position of a linguistic subject. Benveniste further argued that all acts of language use are fundamentally dialogical in nature, although the individual acts of speaking and listening, writing and reading may be widely separated in place and time. These questions played a pivotal role in the shift, both in literary theory and in the human sciences more broadly, from structuralism to poststructuralism through the course of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This involved a shift from the study of language as a signifying system, to the study of discourse as the range of different processes by which individual acts of speaking and writing, listening and reading, are framed in advance by formal and informal rules and conventions. Every actual instance of language use is inseparable from its enunciative situation, and this entails attention to the questions of who is speaking, to whom, and why? As developed in different ways by theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, the linguistics of enunciation would raise profound questions about the role of language in the formation of subjectivity and in the discursive operation of power.


  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Literary Theory
  • Western European Literatures

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription