The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis

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French: Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychana­lyse


At the Rome Congress of Romance Language Psychoanalysts, on the 26th of September, 1953, Lacan delivered a paper entitled "Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychana­lyse" ("The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis").[1] This paper, often referred to as the Rome Discourse marked Lacan's break with the analytic establishment and the formation of his own school of psychoanalytic thought. Also in 1953, Lacan and a group of colleagues left the Société psychanalytique de Paris (SPP) to form the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). The Rome Discourse came to be seen as the founding document of the SFP, and of a new direction in psychoanalysis.


The paper, the founding statement of Lacanian theory, defines psychoanalysis as a practice of speech and a theory of the speaking subject. Psychoanalysis, he asserts, is distinguished from other disciplines in that the analyst works on the subject's speech. He points out that Freud often referred to language, particularly when he was focusing on the unconscious. After all, language is the "talking cure".

Three Orders

The theory of the three interacting orders, the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real, first appears in detail in this paper. These orders can be conceived as different planes of existence which, though interconnected, are independent realities, each order being concerned with different functions.


The Imaginary order includes the field of phantasies and images. It evolves out of the mirror stage but extends into the adult subject's relationships with others. The prototype of the typical imaginary relationship is the infant before the mirror, fascinated with its image. The Imaginary order also seems to include preverbal structures, for example, the various 'primitive' phantasies of children, psycotic and perverse patients.


The Symbolic order is concerned with the function of symbols and symbolic systems. Language belongs to the Symbolic order. Is is through the symbolic order that the subject is constituted.

The Real order is the most elusive of these categories, and is linked to the dimensions of sexuality and death. It seems to be the domain outside the subject. The Real is the domain of the inexpressible, of what cannot be spoken about, for it does not belong to language. It is the order where the subject meets with inexpressible enjoyment and death.


This paper sets out Lacan's major concerns for the following decade:


  1. "Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychana­lyse." Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966: 237-322 ["The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis." Trans. Alan Sheridan. Écrits: A Selection. London: Tavistock, 1977; New York: W.W. Nortion & Co., 1977: 30-113].