From 1883 to 1885 he studied classical languages and literature in Geneva. He continued his studies from 1886 to 1889 in Berlin where he was awarded a Ph.D. After his studies he worked as a private teacher for the royal family of Greece from 1889 to 1893. Bally returned to Geneva and taught at a business school from 1893 on and moved to the Progymnasium. He also worked as PD at the university from 1893 to 1913.
Charles Bally was only eight years younger than Saussure. Prior to attending Saussure’s Course, he had studied classics in Geneva, completed his doctorate on Euripides in Berlin from 1886 to 1889. He was not just a student and not just a linguist: he earned his keep by teaching French, particularly as a foreign language. This teaching experience, coupled with his knowledge of German linguistics, brought him to stylistics.
Charles Bally was a student of Ferdinand de Saussure , he wrote a monumental piece of work (1909) on French Stylistics which brought about wide spread knowledge to the continent on the viable nature of Stylistics as a researchable area of linguistics; where linguistic „eyes‟ can be used to view literary texts. The book “Traite de stylistique francaise” was published with a dedication to the author’s inspirational guide, Ferdinand de Saussure. In Bally’s subsequent publications we can find stylistics drawn as the complementary discipline to Saussure’s Linguistics in the scientific study of language. Bally argues that “linguistic structure” consist in not one but two interwoven networks of relations between verbal signs. Bally takes for granted Saussure’s account of the nature but he adds that there is more to communication that the simple transmission of the intersubjective concepts with which our “system of logic” provide is.
Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye considered Saussure's own writings too fragmentary and not elaborate enough for serving as a textual basis for the compilation of the CGL. The two editors did not only compile and redact the students' notes. In fact, they structured and ordered the chapters of the CGL according to their own ideas, left out important Saussurean formulations and explanations, added their own comments and theoretical ideas –in short: they composed a text that diverged in many respects from the original Saussurean teachings.
Since its very inception, the term ‘style’ as a linguistic concept has had a range of different senses attributed to it depending upon what theory is adopting it. Each school of thought has somehow come out with a definition of the term ‘style.’ Bally relates style to ‘a layer of affective elements.’ While the functionalists define style as a significant choice, the transformationalists view style as the optional application of deploying different grammatical transformations or ‘syntactic rules.’
Bally set out to study the “expressive resources of a whole language”. In this, his project differs from the kind of literary stylistics that would study the language used by one author, for example, and it refrains from assuming, as had some of his German predecessors, that the works of great writers could help shape a whole language. Bally wants to look at the entire French language, at all its levels of usage, and give a systematic description of its peculiarities at the level of parole, linguistic expression, rather than the underlying obligatory grammar. This is where his association with Saussurean tradition becomes difficult: Bally wanted to study a whole language, but he did not want to do so at the level of obligatory grammatical rules.
The real interest of Bally is that his epistemological starting point was actually translation, his methodology was based on a theory of equivalence, he recognized that his whole procedure was in effect a way of training translators, and yet he never said anything systematic about translation. You will not find him listed among any list of translation theorists.
Bally’s major text, for methodology and much else, is Linguistique générale et linguistique française, first published in 1932. As the title indicates, the first part elaborates concepts and procedures that are presumed to work for all languages, while the second part applies those concepts and procedures to the stylistics of French. Beneath the cover, though, what is happening in this book is a constant process of translation between French and German. In fact, the method is explicitly marked by Bally’s experience as a teacher of French to German-speaking students.
Bally proposed that the linguistic method – the method that is linguistics rather than anything coming “from outside” – must be based on pure comparison.
Bally was thinking from a translational situation, his method was based on a concept of equivalence that could have been made translingual, and he himself saw that his stylistics offered a way of training translators.
Bally’s comments on translation are dated about 50 years prior to Vinay and Darbelnet: they were there, but they were by no means about to cause a revolution. On the more methodological level, Bally’s comments on equivalence seem almost banal but could become something else. In his Linguistique générale, equivalence is simply confirming the fact of reformulation and the necessary assumptions of comparison. In his Traité de stylistique it momentarily becomes a very naïve idealization of semantics. And all those things would probably be mere wishful thinking were it not for the subsequent history of translation theory.
One final reason for recalling Bally, beyond the history of Translation Studies, is his pedagogical awareness that translation can relate to training in several different ways.
Bally was first who systematized the combination of words in his books “The sketch stylistics” and “French stylistics”. So The very term phraseology was suggested by Charles Bally, who regarded phraseology as a part of this science. Since his book “Precis de stylistique” (1905) was published and translated into various languages, a lot of research on phraseological units has been conducted.
Charles Bally made a distinction between the free matching of words and dealt with the so-called phrasal phrase where he included the complex sintagmatic matchings, that he further subdivided according to the cohesion degree into phraseological series (with relative cohesion degree, where the matching of words is relatively free) and phraseological units (with absolute cohesion degree, where the matching of words is perfect). There Charles Bally considered three criteria: the autonomy of the elements, the closeness that puts these elements together, the impression of already known – an intuitive criterion. The phraseological unit was defined strictly semantically. In order to recognize it we get help from the following external factors: the composition of the group from more separate words in writing; the settled word order; the lack of word separation by means of other words.
Charles Bally was one of the most important linguists. He did a lot for phraseology, and stylistics in the whole.