Of Grammatology

Of Grammatology (French: De la grammatologie) is a 1967 book by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, in which the author discusses writers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Étienne Condillac, Louis Hjelmslev, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Roman Jakobson, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, André Leroi-Gourhan, and William Warburton. The book has been called a foundational text for deconstructive criticism.

Of Grammatology
Cover of the first edition
AuthorJacques Derrida
Original titleDe la grammatologie
TranslatorGayatri Chakravorty Spivak
PublisherLes Éditions de Minuit
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint
Pages360 (revised English translation)


The work was initially submitted by Derrida as a Doctorat de spécialité thesis (directed by Maurice de Gandillac) under the title De la grammatologie : Essai sur la permanence de concepts platonicien, aristotélicien et scolastique de signe écrit[1] (Of Grammatology: Essay on the Permanence of Platonic, Aristotelian and Scholastic Concepts of the Written Sign). His submission was unsuccessful.


Derrida argues that throughout the Western philosophical tradition, writing has been considered as merely a derivative form of speech, and thus as a "fall" from the "full presence" of speech. In the course of the work he deconstructs this position as it appears in the work of several writers, showing the myriad aporias and ellipses to which this leads them. Derrida does not claim to be giving a critique of the work of these thinkers, because he does not believe it possible to escape from operating with such oppositions. Nevertheless, he calls for a new science of "grammatology" that would relate to such questions in a new way.[2]

Of Grammatology introduced many of the concepts which Derrida would employ in later work, especially in relation to linguistics and writing.[3]

Saussure and structuralism

The book starts with a review of Saussure's linguistic structuralism, as presented in the Course in General Linguistics. In particular, Derrida analyzes the concept of "sign", which for Saussure has the two separate components of sound and meaning. These components are also called signifier (signifiant) and signified (signifié).[4]

Derrida quotes Saussure: “Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first.”[5] Critiquing this relationship between speech and writing, Derrida suggests that written symbols are legitimate signifiers on their own—that they should not be considered as secondary or derivative relative to oral speech.[6]

Reading of Rousseau

Much of the second half of Of Grammatology is dedicated to a sustained reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and especially his Essay on the Origin of Languages. Derrida analyzes Rousseau in terms of what he calls a "logic of supplementarity,"[7] according to which "the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is super-added, alien to that which, in order to be replaced by it, must be other than it."[8] Derrida shows how Rousseau consistently appeals to the idea that a supplement comes from the outside to contaminate a supposedly pure origin (of language, in this case). This tendency manifests in many different binaries that Rousseau sets up throughout the Essay: writing supplements speech, articulation supplements accent, need supplements passion, north supplements south, etc.[9] Derrida calls these binaries a "system of oppositions that controls the entire Essay."[10] He then argues that Rousseau, without expressly declaring it, nevertheless describes how a logic of supplementarity is always already at work in the origin that it is supposed to corrupt: "This relationship of mutual and incessant supplementarity or substitution is the order of language. It is the origin of language, as it is described without being declared, in the Essay on the Origin of Languages."[11]

Publication history

Of Grammatology was first published by Les Éditions de Minuit in 1967. The English translation by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak was first published in 1976. A revised edition of the translation was published in 1997. A further revised edition was published in January 2016.[12]


Of Grammatology is one of three books which Derrida published in 1967, and which served to establish his reputation. The other two were La voix et le phénomène, translated as Speech and Phenomena, and L'écriture et la différence, translated as Writing and Difference. It has been called a foundational text for deconstructive criticism.[13]

Iain Hamilton Grant has compared Of Grammatology to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus (1972), the philosopher Luce Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard's Libidinal Economy (1974), and the sociologist Jean Baudrillard's Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), noting that like them it forms part of post-structuralism, a response to the demise of structuralism as a dominant intellectual discourse.[14]


  • De la grammatologie (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1967).
  • Of Grammatology (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak).
  • Of Grammatology (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, corrected edition, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak).

See also


  1. Alan D. Schrift (2006), Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes And Thinkers, Blackwell Publishing, p. 120.
  2. Derrida 1997
  3. Derrida 1997
  4. Derrida 1997
  5. Derrida 1997
  6. Derrida 1997
  7. Bernasconi, Robert. "Supplement". In Colebrook, Claire (ed.). Jacques Derrida : key concepts. Abingdon, Oxon. ISBN 9781844655892. OCLC 898081003.
  8. Jacques, Derrida (1998). Of grammatology (Corrected ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 145. ISBN 0801858305. OCLC 39348029.
  9. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1986). Essay on the Origin of Languages. On the Origin of Language. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. pp. 30–48. ISBN 978-0226730127.
  10. Jacques., Derrida, (1998). Of grammatology (Corrected ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 202. ISBN 0801858305. OCLC 39348029.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  11. Jacques., Derrida, (1998). Of grammatology (Corrected ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 235. ISBN 0801858305. OCLC 39348029.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  12. "Of Grammatology". jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  13. Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin (2008). Greek Tragedy. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 978-1-4051-2160-6. p. 5: "Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology, a foundational text for deconstructive criticism, works closely with Plato".
  14. Jean-François Lyotard] and Iain Hamilton Grant (1993), Libidinal Economy, Indiana University Press, p. xvii.


  • Derrida, Jacques (1997). Of Grammatology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5830-5.

Further reading

  • Bradley, Arthur. Derrida's Of Grammatology (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008).
  • Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982).
  • de Man, Paul. "The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida's Reading of Rousseau," in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, second edition) 102-41.
  • Harris, Roy. Interpreters of Saussure (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2001) 171-188.
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