Bertil Malmberg (Helsingborg, Sweden, April 22, 1913 – Lund,Sweden, October 8, 1994)
in
 IASS-AIS Bulletin — Annual ‘95/’96,
 pp. 69-71
Although he has been the Swedish representative to the executive commission of IASSsince its foundation, Bertil Malmberg’s main contributions were in two other fields, bothof which he introduced into Sweden. Himself a student of Romance languages, he heldthe first chairs ever established in his native country in phonetics (1950-69), and later ingeneral linguistics (1969-78), both at Lund University. He was also professor of phoneticsin Paris from 1965 to 1967 and in 1973.In both domains his knowledge was encyclopaedic, and he wrote many texts-books atdifferent levels of complexity, which continued to be required reading for students inFrance and other Latin countries, long after the advent of Chomskyanism made themseem outdated in Sweden. It is a measure of the authority Malmbergs thoroughknowledge of linguistic theory gained him world-wide that Mexican linguists, during mystay there in the eighties, were more impressed with my having been a student of Malmberg than of Greimas.Malmberg was, in many ways, the last of the classical,
linguistic,
 structuralists. TheSaussurean sign concept remained for him the key stone of linguistic theory, whichdetermined his frank opposition to Chomskyan linguistics. A close friend of Hjelmslev, aswell as of Jakobson and Martinet, he took an epistemological stand which wassomewhere in-between the extreme formalism of the Copenhagen school, and the moreuser-oriented approach of the Prague tradition. On the one hand, he pioneered the use of experimental equipment to analyse the sound wave in its minutest details; on the other, hecould opt for at description in which even the musical accents characteristic of theSwedish language were reduced to plus and minus signs. It was to him all a question of what was, in particular circumstances, the most pragmatic approach.Unlike many other linguists, Malmberg was sufficiently open-minded to taken an interestin French structuralism, when, in the sixties, it began popularising semiotics bytransferring the linguistic model to other domains. However, as his excellent exposition of the Saussurean tradition in semiotics, in the book
 Betydelselära
 (1973) and the collectionof articles
 I språkets tecken
 (1972), makes abundantly clear, he did not think the Parisianliterary critics and philosophers were up to the standards of linguistic structuralism. Hedid not even hesitate, in his review of Derrida’s “De la grammatologie” (1974), to protestthe absurdity of the author faulting precisely the precursors of the formalist doctrine withfavouring speech over writing.In his numerous writings concerned with general phonetics, communication theory, childlanguage, and the history of linguistics, Malmberg has often touched on more general
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semiotic themes, in particular on the peculiar nature of the linguistic sign. He hasrepeatedly insisted on the fact that, according to Saussurean understanding, the sign isarbitrary in a
double sense,
 both as far as the relation between the signifier and thesignified is concerned, and regarding the relationship which the sign as a whole entertainsto the outside world.It was Malmberg who gave the name Jakobsons lawto the constitutive presuppositional ordering obtaining between phoneme distinctions acquired by the child,and lost by the aphasic, and the more or less wide distribution of these distinctions in thelanguages of the world. Taking this idea a little further, Malmberg has more recentlyargued for the extension of such a hierarchical ordering to the whole of language.Furthermore, he has indicated that, as we pass from the elementary units of language,onto more extended stretches of discourse, reaching such “larger signs” as texts,narratives, myths, and so on, the arbitrariness of language, so fundamtental to Saussure,tends to give way, yielding to an increasing degree of iconicity, which results from thediscourse modelling itself on the outside world.In his books
Signes et symboles
(1977)
 
and
 Le langage – signe de l’humain
 (1979)
 ,
Malmberg introduces a distinction between linguistic meanings, termed
 signs,
which arecharacterised by double articulation, and by the separation of the signified from itsreferent, and
 symbols,
where none of these features are to be found. In fact, Malmbergwould seem to recognise even a third class, termed
 signals,
examples of which are thedistinctive features of phonology, which, though representing nothing at all, serve toattract attention. His latest books were more exclusively historically-oriented; first,
 Analyse du langage au XXe siècle
(1983), which once again returned to recent linguistichistory, and then
 Du Sumer à Saussure
 (1991), in which he follows the advancement of linguistic reflection from the beginning of human history to the work of the thinker whocreated general linguistics, and who at least had the merit of seeing the necessity of integrating it into semiotics.Unfortunately, Malmberg never took any explicit part in the development of theinstitutions of Swedish semiotics. When, in 1992, I organised the first semiotic event ever to take place in Sweden, the joint congress of the Swedish Society and the NordicAssociation for Semiotic Studies, he had accepted to give the key-note lecture, but wasthen in the end too ill to participate. It was, however, largely because of hisrecommendation that a research position in semiotics was created at Lund Universitywhich is now the nucleus of the Department of Cultural Semiotics.Göran Sonesson
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