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Lucien Tesnière


French linguist (Mont St Aignan 1893 - Montpellier 1954) and precursor of the structuralist and formalist theories, Lucien Tesnière was a professor in Strasbourg (1924), subsequently in Montpellier (1937). He is the author of a work on the grammar of Slavic languages; however, he is especially known for his posthumous work Eléments de syntaxe structurale (Elements of structural syntax) (1959), of which an outline has appeared in 1953 under the title Esquisse d'une syntaxe structurale (Outline of a structural syntax) where he proposed a formal model of sentences structures.

This model uses the stemma, a kind of tree expressing the existence of vertical and horizontal relations in syntactic constructions. In this graph, the verb occupies the node and it governs complements, themselves governing the subordinate elements. The complements have an actant role on the verb and certain 'circonstants' indicate the circumstances of the action. The semantic content is determined on each node of the tree, in the form of grammatical functions. His intention was at the same time pedagogical (the grammar taught by the representation of the architecture of sentences in the form of arborescent diagrams) and theoretical, requiring the constitution of an entirely new grammatical terminology.

Tesnière also wrote a work on tenses and aspect: "L'emploi des temps en français" (using tenses in French).

Brief bibliography

TESNIERE Lucien : Esquisse d'une syntaxe structurale, Klincksieck, Paris 1953. 
TESNIERE Lucien : Eléments de syntaxe structurale, Klincksieck, Paris 1959. 
BULAG n°7 Hommage à Lucien Tesnière, Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines, Besançon 1980.