[Foucault-L] RE?: Translation of ?nonc? to English

I am a French native speaker currently writing in English an "archaeology"
of a political idea using Foucault's method. I came across the same problem
with the English translation of Foucault's word "énoncé". However, I must
say that the French word did not give me more clues. However, "statement" is
not so good a translation because I believe that the etymological meaning of
"énoncé" is lost. The word "statement" does not carry the same etymological

Please allow me to copy/paste excerpts from my thesis:

In latin "énoncé" comes from enunciare a derivative of et nunciare, to
announce, and also related to the French word "nonce", from Latin *nuncius*,
messenger. This meaning is lost with the English word "statement". Although
I have not found a study on Foucault's concept of "énoncé", I assume that
his French education in the elite school École Normale Supérieure has taught
him the importance of words and of their Latin etymology, and therefore I
assume that the choice of the term "énoncé" had something to do with this
etymology in the same manner as the choice for the term "archive" and
"archaeology" was made.

As for the choice of the word "énoncé" to put a word on his concept of
statements and their laws of functioning, the choice of the word "archive"
is probably not made without reason either. According to Derrida, the Greek
root of the word, *arkhē*, designates both the *beginning* and the *
commandment* (Derrida 1995, 11). The Latin *archivum* or *archium *gave the
meaning of archive we understand today, based on the Greek *arkheîon
first a house, inhabited by the "*archontes"*, those who commanded, the
political power for citizens, those who in this place decided and
interpreted the archives (Derrida 1995, 12-13).

However, if the idea of "commandment" is part of the concept of archaeology,
Foucault refuses the theme of beginning: he is not concerned with the prime
origin of meanings (Brochier 1994 [1969], 772).

Indeed, the archive is a double "commandment" as it designates the system of
"énonçabilité" of the "énoncé-event", and the system of the functioning of
the "énoncé-thing". The archive is "the general system of formation and
transformation" of the énoncés (Foucault 1969, 171). It is not only the sum
of the énoncés, but a place with rules upon the énoncés.

The term "archive" is thus designating at the same time the whole formed by
all the énoncés, and also the system containing "laws" that governs how
these énoncés appear (first "commandment"), and why they do not just consist
in a bunch of scattered thoughts without form, embedded in a linear
narrative, and disappearing by accident (second "commandment"):

"L'archive, c'est d'abord la loi de ce qui peut être dit, le système qui
régit l'apparition des énoncés comme évènements singuliers. Mais l'archive,
c'est aussi ce qui fait que toutes ces choses dites ne s'amassent pas
indéfiniment dans une multitude amorphe, ne s'inscrivent pas non plus dans
une linéarité sans rupture, et ne disparaissent pas au seul hasard
d'accidents externes" (Foucault 1969, 170).

It is the "laws" or rules of this system (archive) that archaeology wants to
describe – the rules governing the énoncés.

The énoncé is thus the core unit on which the archaeological study relies.
It replaces the inconvenient units suggested by tradition such as "medicine"
or "political economy". Instead those are loosely referred to as "discursive
formations", or shortly "discourses". A discourse or discursive formation is
composed of several énoncés. What is an énoncé? What are its functions? And
how to describe it?

As often with Foucault, the definition of the énoncé is given in a negative
form of what it is not, and is a very soft and malleable definition. Rather
than a structured unit, the énoncé is defined as a "function":

"L'énoncé ce n'est donc pas une structure (c'est-à-dire un ensemble de
relations entre des éléments variables, autorisant ainsi un nombre peut-être
infini de modèles concrets) ; c'est une fonction d'existence qui appartient
en propre aux signes et à partir de laquelle on peut décider, ensuite, par
l'analyse ou l'intuition, s'ils « font sens » ou non, selon quelle règle ils
se succèdent ou se juxtaposent, de quoi ils sont signe, et quelle sorte
d'acte se trouve effectué par leur formulation (orale ou écrite). Il ne faut
donc pas s'étonner si on n'a pas pu trouver pour l'énoncé des critères
structuraux d'unité ; c'est qu'il n'est point en lui-même une unité, mais
une fonction qui croise un domaine de structures et d'unités possibles et
qui les fait apparaître, avec des contenus concrets, dans le temps et
l'espace " (Foucault 1969, 115).

So the énoncé is a function of existence of signs from which the analyst has
to decide, according to intuition or the analysis itself, if they "make
sense" or not, and according to what rule they follow each others or are
next to each other, and what sort of acts are affected by their formulation
(oral or written).

One has to note that Foucault is here inconsistent in his suggested
methodology with the critics he made concerning the anthropological bias of
other methods in the history of ideas. Although Foucault's method avoids
trying to find out what an author meant in his text, there is still an
element of appreciation from the part of the archaeologist, although
displaced from the authors' texts to what énoncés are: the archaeologist
must look at signs and decide according to his/her "analysis or intuition"
if these signs "make sense".

But what is the difference between an énoncé and a sentence or proposition?
And with a formulation? In Foucault's vocabulary, a formulation is the
individual or collective act of making a group of signs appear on a material
according to a specific form (Foucault 1969, 140). A formulation as such is
an "event", easily identifiable in space and time.

A sentence is "the units that grammar or logic can recognise in a grouping
of signs…" (Foucault 1969, 140).

An énoncé is "the modality of existence proper to this ensemble of signs:
mode that enables it to be something else than a series of traces…; modality
that enables it to be in relation with a domain of objects, to prescribe a
defined position to every subject possible, to be situated among other
verbal performances, and finally to be given a repeatable materiality"
1969, 140-141).

These last elements of the definition of the énoncé are the conditions for a
group of signs to fulfil in order to form an énoncé. They will now be
examined more carefully.
Conditions for a "Fonction Énonciative"

So an énoncé is in fact the short name for a "fonction énonciative". This
"function" has a certain number of elements in it. A formulation, i.e. a
group of signs, is not in itself an énoncé. Four elements, or conditions,
have to occur:
1. The relation between the énoncé and what it is enunciating:
Differentiation field

A series of signs is an énoncé if it is referring to "something else" (Foucault
1969, 117): the series of signs is conditioning "laws of possibilities" or
"rules of existence" for objects named by it. This is the "niveau
énonciatif" ("enunciative" level), as opposed to a grammatical level. In
this "enunciative level", objects or individuals are emerging and are
delimitated – this is what Foucault calls the "differentiation field" (Foucault
1969, 120-121).

In order to describe this "enunciative level", one has to analyse the
relations between the énoncé and this differentiation field where the énoncé
is making these differences appear (Foucault 1969, 121).
2. The Subject: delimitated Position to occupy

The second condition for a group of signs, or formulation, to be an énoncé
is that there is a relation with a subject (Foucault 1969, 121). However,
the subject in question is not the grammatical subject of the sentence
analysed or the individual who enunciated it. The subject in question is any
possible person who could one day state the same énoncé. Thus, one has to
determine what position an individual can and must occupy in order to be the
subject (Foucault 1969, 126).
3. The existence of an associated domain

The formulation must also be put in relation to a "collateral space" in
order to be qualified as an énoncé (Foucault 1969, 128). This is not the
context in which the énoncé has emerged, but an "associated domain", which
is formed by:

· The series of other formulations in which the énoncé is part;

· The grouping of formulations to which the énoncé is making
reference (adapting, opposing or criticising);

· The grouping of formulations that the énoncé is making possible
in the future;

· The grouping of formulations that the énoncé shares the status
with, and towards which it will be undermined or valued, preserved or
offered as a possible object for future discourses (Foucault 1969, 129-130).
4. Material existence

The last element of the énoncé concerns, what one could playfully
paraphrase, the "material conditions" of its existence. This element
conditions what can be qualified as a new or not a new énoncé.

In my view, Foucault is trying to identify three elements in these "material
conditions" of existence for the énoncé:

· Institution:

An énoncé is not the same whether it is articulated in a conversation or
printed in a novel: the "institution" in which it appears defines its
possibilities for being re-embedded and transcribed (Foucault 1969, 136).

· Stabilisation field:

Another limit to the énoncé is the grouping of all the other énoncés in
which it appears: the same sentence "dreams realise desires", does not carry
the same meaning for Pluto and for Freud. All these schemes and rules of
usage where the énoncé appears in fact constitute a "stabilisation field"
that enables them to be repeated, even if they are different. However, they
also make it possible to define an énoncé as new, despite semantic and
grammatical identities, as in the example given (Foucault 1969, 136).

· Repetition:

An énoncé is, as a matter of fact, more a repetition in itself. As such, its
birth is not easily identifiable with space-time coordinates. The conditions
for its repetition however, are quite strict and heavy so that it remains
quite constant through time. Thus, an énoncé circulates through time and
space, and excludes or integrates according to diverse struggles or
interests (Foucault 1969, 137-138).
Describing énoncés
The énoncé is not hidden but not visible either

The énoncé is not hidden: it is what has been said. One does not look for
hidden meanings nor tries to read "between the lines" (Foucault 1969,

But the énoncé is not visible either because it is not present and
immediately readable like a sentence from a book. Actually, it is not even a
unit in itself situated next to sentences or propositions; it is embedded in
these kinds of unit. One has to find the "énunciative level" by looking at
the elements that have been described above in order to identify the
conditions of their possibility: differentiation field, associated domain,
subject and material repeatability (Foucault 1969, 145-148).
Scarcity in the enunciative domain

Analysing énoncés implies the attempt to establish a "scarcity law", i.e.
the principle according to which only this group of signs could have
appeared (Foucault 1969, 156). The archaeologist must analyse the principle
that not everything is said. However, this does not mean to look for the
"non-dit" and interpret what could otherwise have been said. It means, to
look where the énoncé is to be situated in order to see where logically it
could have gone (Foucault 1969, 156-158).
Exteriority in the enunciative domain

The "author-function" implies to analyse the énoncés under the angle of
exteriority, i.e. not analysing the énoncé as the conscience of the author.
This has the following consequences for the analysis of the "enunciative
domain": it can be described as an autonomous domain, not the result of
something else; it is anonymous (no reference to an individual subject) and
defines the position of the speaking subject; it is not transformed by the
temporality of conscience (Foucault 1969, 160).
Lumping in the enunciative domain

The analysis of the énoncé is addressing specific forms of lumping. This
implies three foci when analysing énoncés: considering them in their
"remanence", i.e. the technical and material support, the institutions as
well as status of the énoncé are determining its possible transformations;
considering them in their specific form of "additionability", i.e. not al
groupings of sequential énoncés are the same; considering them with
phenomena of "recurrence", i.e. each énoncé is situated with reference to a
past ("enunciative past") but that it can modify (Foucault 1969, 162-163).

I hope all this helped someone understanding better what "énoncé" is.


Brochier, J.-J. "Michel Foucault explique son dernier livre (entretien avec
J.-J. Brochier)." In *Dits et écrits 1954-1988 par Michel Foucault. Vol.I:
1954-1969*, edited by Daniel Defert and François Ewald, 771-779. Paris: NRF
Gallimard, 1994 [1969].

Derrida, Jacques. *Mal d'archive : une impression freudienne.* Paris:
Galilée, 1995.

Foucault, Michel. *L'archéologie du savoir.* Paris: Gallimard, 1969.

Frank Ejby Poulsen (stud.cand.scient.pol, MPA, DEA, maîtrise)
A-1040 Wien
  • [Foucault-L] Lack of examples
    • From: Margaret Robinson
  • Re: [Foucault-L] RE?: Translation of ?nonc? to English
    • From: Flemming Bjerke
  • Partial thread listing: