Antoni Dufriche-Desgenettes biography

Antoni Dufriche-Desgenettes

Deceased Person

1804 – 1878


Who was Antoni Dufriche-Desgenettes?

Antoni Dufriche-Desgenettes, baptized Antoine Marie Dufriche-Foulaines, was a French seafaring merchant, poet and amateur phonetician. His father François Nicolas, a brother of René-Nicolas Dufriche Desgenettes, had changed his family name from Dufriche-Desgenettes to Dufriche-Foulaines and was a lawyer and political writer; Antoni's mother Antoinette Elisabeth Vassault-Vareille was a translator from English and a publisher-bookseller. After many years at sea, Dufriche worked in the Netherlands as a French teacher for some time. In the late 1850s, he returned to Paris but still frequently travelled abroad, especially to Java. His travels enabled him to collect information about the sounds of many languages and to develop a universal phonetic alphabet. He is best known for the introduction of the term phoneme for an individual sound as an element of a language-specific or universal sound inventory; it is attested in his writings since the early 1860s.

In 1860, Dufriche joined the Société d'ethnographie orientale et américaine, whose members "were largely linguists and specialists in Asian texts and pre-Columbian codices", and he was among the founders of the Société de Linguistique de Paris in 1864. As an autodidact in linguistics, he remained something of an outsider, however, and it is likely that the term phoneme survived primarily thanks to its acceptance by Louis Havet, although it underwent a number of metamorphoses in the course of half a century until it finally acquired the meaning 'smallest distinctive unit'.


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Dec 19, 1878

on July 23, 2013

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