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Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a
Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland , french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under an assembly-independent Directorial ...

Swiss
linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

linguist
,
semiotician Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes ( semiosis), which are any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to t ...

semiotician
and
philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mi ...

philosopher
. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...

linguistics
and
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

semiotics
in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the founders of 20th-century linguistics and one of two major founders (together with
Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce ( ; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American philosopher, ian, mathematician and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of ". He was known as a somewhat unusual character. Educated as a chemist an ...

Charles Sanders Peirce
) of semiotics, or ''semiology'', as Saussure called it. One of his translators,
Roy Harris Roy Ellsworth Harris (February 12, 1898 – October 1, 1979) was an American composer A composer (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was orig ...
, summarized Saussure's contribution to linguistics and the study of "the whole range of human sciences. It is particularly marked in linguistics,
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, language. Such questio ...

philosophy
,
psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis (from Greek language, Greek: + ) is a set of Theory, theories and Therapy, therapeutic techniques"What is psychoanalysis? Of course, one is supposed to answer that it is many things — a theory, a research method, a therapy, a bo ...

psychoanalysis
,
psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

psychology
,
sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the scie ...
and
anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, ...
." Although they have undergone extension and critique over time, the dimensions of organization introduced by Saussure continue to inform contemporary approaches to the phenomenon of
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
.
Prague school The Prague school or Prague linguistic circle is a language and literature society. It started in 1926 as a group of linguistics, linguists, philology, philologists and literary critics in Prague. Its proponents developed methods of semiotic lite ...
linguist Jan Mukařovský writes that Saussure's "discovery of the internal structure of the
linguistic sign In semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis), which are any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates a Meaning (s ...
differentiated the sign both from mere acoustic 'things'... and from mental processes", and that in this development "new roads were thereby opened not only for linguistics, but also, in the future, for the theory of literature".
Ruqaiya Hasan Ruqaiya Hasan (3 July 1931After government birth records were lost in Pratapgarh, Hasan's mother re-registered Ruqaiya's birthdate as 3 July 1931, slightly earlier than her real birthdate, to enroll her in school earlier. – 24 June 2015) was a p ...
argued that "the impact of Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign has been such that modern linguists and their theories have since been positioned by reference to him: they are known as pre-Saussurean, Saussurean, anti-Saussurean, post-Saussurean, or non-Saussure".Linguistic sign and the science of linguistics: the foundations of appliability. In Fang Yan & Jonathan Webster (eds.)Developing Systemic Functional Linguistics. Equinox 2013


Biography

Saussure was born in
Geneva Geneva ( ; french: Genève ; frp, Genèva ; german: link=no, Genf ; it, Ginevra ; rm, Genevra) is the List of cities in Switzerland, second-most populous city in Switzerland (after Zürich) and the most populous city of Romandy, the French-spea ...

Geneva
in 1857. His father was Henri Louis Frédéric de Saussure, a
mineralogist Mineralogy is a subject of geology specializing in the scientific study of the chemistry, crystal structure, and physical (including optical mineralogy, optical) properties of minerals and mineralized artifact (archaeology), artifacts. Specific stu ...

mineralogist
,
entomologist upright=1.2, A Phyllium sp., mimicking a leaf Entomology () is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions abo ...

entomologist
, and
taxonomist In biology, taxonomy () is the scientific study of naming, defining (Circumscription (taxonomy), circumscribing) and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped into taxon, taxa (singular ...
. Saussure showed signs of considerable talent and intellectual ability as early as the age of fourteen.Слюсарева, Наталья Александровна: ''Некоторые полузабытые страницы из истории языкознания – Ф. де Соссюр и У. Уитней.'' (Общее и романское языкознание: К 60-летию Р.А. Будагова). Москва 1972. In the autumn of 1870, he began attending the Institution Martine (previously the Institution Lecoultre until 1969), in Geneva. There he lived with the family of a classmate, Elie David. Graduating at the top of class, Saussure expected to continue his studies at the Gymnase de Genève, but his father decided he was not mature enough at fourteen and a half, and sent him to the Collège de Genève instead. Saussure was not pleased, as he complained: "I entered the Collège de Genève, to waste a year there as completely as a year can be wasted." After a year of studying
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
,
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
and
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language of South Asia that belongs to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor langua ...

Sanskrit
and taking a variety of courses at the
University of Geneva The University of Geneva (French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily ...

University of Geneva
, he commenced graduate work at the
University of Leipzig Leipzig University (german: Universität Leipzig), in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the world's oldest University, universities and the List of universities in Germany#Universities by years of existence, second-oldest univ ...
in 1876. Two years later, at 21, Saussure published a book entitled ''Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes'' (''Dissertation on the Primitive Vowel System in Indo-European Languages''). After this he studied for a year at the
University of Berlin Humboldt University of Berlin (german: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, abbreviated HU Berlin) is a public In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the general public) ...
under the ''
Privatdozent ''Privatdozent'' (for men) or ''Privatdozentin'' (for women), abbreviated PD, P.D. or Priv.-Doz., is an academic title conferred at some European universities, especially in German-speaking countries, to someone who holds certain formal qualifica ...
''
Heinrich Zimmer Heinrich Robert Zimmer (6 December 1890 – 20 March 1943) was a German Indologist and linguist, as well as a historian of South Asian art, most known for his works, ''Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization'' and ''Philosophies of India'' ...
, with whom he studied Celtic, and Hermann Oldenberg with whom he continued his studies of Sanskrit. He returned to Leipzig to defend his doctoral dissertation ''De l'emploi du génitif absolu en Sanscrit'', and was awarded his doctorate in February 1880. Soon, he relocated to the
University of Paris , image_name = Coat of arms of the University of Paris.svg , image_size = 150px , caption = , latin_name = Universitas magistrorum et scholarium Parisiensis , motto = ''Hic et ubique terrarum'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical ...
, where he lectured on Sanskrit,
Gothic Gothic or Gothics may refer to: People and languages *Goths or Gothic people, the ethnonym of a group of East Germanic tribes **Gothic language, an extinct East Germanic language spoken by the Goths **Crimean Gothic, the Gothic language spoken by ...
and
Old High German Old High German (OHG, german: Althochdeutsch, German abbr. ) is the earliest stage of the German language, conventionally covering the period from around 750 to 1050. There is no standardised or supra-regional form of German at this period, and ...
and occasionally other subjects. Ferdinand de Saussure is one of the world’s most quoted linguists, which is remarkable as he himself hardly published anything during his lifetime. Even his few scientific articles are not unproblematic. Thus, for example, his publication on Lithuanian phonetics is grosso modo taken from studies by the Lithuanian researcher Friedrich Kurschat, with whom Saussure traveled through Lithuania in August 1880 for two weeks and whose (German) books Saussure had read. Saussure, who had studied some basic grammar of Lithuanian in Leipzig for one semester but was unable to speak the language, was thus dependent on Kurschat. It is also questionable to what extent the Cours itself can be traced back to Saussure (alone). Studies have shown that at least the current version and its content are more likely to have the so-called editors Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye as their source than Saussure himself. Saussure taught at the
École pratique des hautes études The École pratique des hautes études (), abbreviated EPHE, is a Grand Établissement in Paris, France. It is highly selective, and counted among France's most prestigious research and higher education institutions. It is a constituent college of ...
for eleven years during which he was named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the
Legion of Honor The National Order of the Legion of Honour (french: Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur), formerly the Royal Order of the Legion of Honour (') is the highest French order of merit An order of merit is an honorific order Order or ORDER or ...
). When offered a professorship in Geneva in 1892, he returned to Switzerland. Saussure lectured on Sanskrit and Indo-European at the
University of Geneva The University of Geneva (French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily ...

University of Geneva
for the remainder of his life. It was not until 1907 that Saussure began teaching the Course of General Linguistics, which he would offer three times, ending in the summer of 1911. He died in 1913 in Vufflens-le-Château,
Vaud Vaud ( ; french: (Canton de) Vaud, ; german: (Kanton) Waadt, or ), more formally the canton of Vaud, is one of the forming the . It is composed of ten districts and its capital city is . Its flag bears the motto "Liberté et patrie" on a white ...
, Switzerland. His brothers were the linguist and Esperantist
René de Saussure
René de Saussure
, and scholar of ancient Chinese astronomy, Léopold de Saussure. In turn, his son was the psychoanalyst
Raymond de SaussureRaymond de Saussure (; 2 August 1894 – 29 October 1971) was a Swiss psychoanalyst, the first president of the European Psychoanalytical Federation.H. Vermorel, 'Raymond de Saussure. First president of the European Psychoanalytical Federation', '' ...
. Saussure attempted, at various times in the 1880s and 1890s, to write a book on general linguistic matters. His lectures about important principles of language description in Geneva between 1907 and 1911 were collected and published by his pupils posthumously in the famous '' Cours de linguistique générale'' in 1916. Some of his manuscripts, including an unfinished essay discovered in 1996, were published in ''Writings in General Linguistics'', but most of the material in it had already been published in Engler's critical edition of the ''Course'', in 1967 and 1974. (TUFA) It is also questionable to what extent the ''Cours'' itself can be traced back to Saussure alone. Studies have shown that at least the current version and its content are more likely to have the so-called editors Charles Bally and Albert Sèchehaye as their source than Saussure himself.


Work and influence

Saussure's theoretical reconstructions of the
Proto-Indo-European language Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the theorized common ancestor of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( ...
vocalic system and particularly his theory of laryngeals, otherwise unattested at the time, bore fruit and found confirmation after the decipherment of
Hittite Hittite may refer to: * Hittites, ancient Anatolian people ** Hittite language, the earliest-attested Indo-European language ** Hittite grammar ** Hittite phonology ** Hittite cuneiform ** Hittite inscriptions ** Hittite laws ** Hittite religion ** ...
in the work of later generations of linguists such as
Émile Benveniste Émile Benveniste (; 27 May 1902 – 3 October 1976) was a French structural A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrela ...
and Walter Couvreur, who both drew direct inspiration from their reading of the 1878 ''Mémoire''. Saussure had a major impact on the development of linguistic theory in the first half of the 20th century with his notions becoming incorporated in the central tenets of
structural linguistics Structural linguistics, or structuralism, in linguistics, denotes schools or theories in which language is conceived as a self-contained, self-regulating Semiotics, semiotic system whose elements are defined by their relationship to other element ...
. His main contribution to structuralism was his theory of a two-tiered reality about language. The first is the ''langue'', the abstract and invisible layer, while the second, the ''parole'', refers to the actual speech that we hear in real life. This framework was later adopted by
Claude Levi-StraussClaude may refer to: *Claude (given name) Claude is a relatively common French given name for males originating from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European langua ...
, who used the two-tiered model to determine the reality of myths. His idea was that all myths have an underlying pattern, which form the structure that makes them myths. These established the structuralist framework to literary criticism. In Europe, the most important work after Saussure's death was done by the
Prague school The Prague school or Prague linguistic circle is a language and literature society. It started in 1926 as a group of linguistics, linguists, philology, philologists and literary critics in Prague. Its proponents developed methods of semiotic lite ...
. Most notably, Nikolay Trubetzkoy and
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
headed the efforts of the Prague School in setting the course of in the decades from 1940. Jakobson's universalizing structural-functional theory of phonology, based on a
markedness In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...
hierarchy of
distinctive features In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...

distinctive features
, was the first successful solution of a plane of linguistic analysis according to the Saussurean hypotheses. Elsewhere,
Louis Hjelmslev Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (; 3 October 189930 May 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every ...
and the Copenhagen School proposed new interpretations of linguistics from structuralist theoretical frameworks. In America, where the term 'structuralism' became highly ambiguous, Saussure's ideas informed the
distributionalism Distributionalism was a general theory of language and a discovery procedure for establishing elements and structures of language based on observed usage. It can be seen as an elaboration of structural linguistics, structuralism but takes a more co ...
of
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), ges ...
, but his influence remained limited.
Systemic functional linguistics# * Systemic functional linguistics (SFL) is an approach to linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling the ...
is a theory considered to be based firmly on the Saussurean principles of the sign, albeit with some modifications.
Ruqaiya Hasan Ruqaiya Hasan (3 July 1931After government birth records were lost in Pratapgarh, Hasan's mother re-registered Ruqaiya's birthdate as 3 July 1931, slightly earlier than her real birthdate, to enroll her in school earlier. – 24 June 2015) was a p ...
describes
systemic functional linguistics# * Systemic functional linguistics (SFL) is an approach to linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling the ...
as a 'post-Saussurean' linguistic theory.
Michael Halliday Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday (often M. A. K. Halliday; 13 April 1925 – 15 April 2018) was a British linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, ...
argues:


''Course in General Linguistics''

Saussure's most influential work, ''Course in General Linguistics'' (''Cours de linguistique générale''), was published posthumously in 1916 by former students
Charles Bally __NOTOC__ Charles Bally (; 4 February 1865, Geneva – 10 April 1947, Geneva) was a Swiss linguistics, linguist from the Geneva School. He lived from 1865 to 1947 and was, like Ferdinand de Saussure, from Switzerland. His parents were Jean Gabr ...
and
Albert Sechehaye Albert Sechehaye (; 4 July 1870, Geneva – 2 July 1946, Geneva) was a Switzerland, Swiss linguist. He is known for editing Ferdinand de Saussure's lectures, ''Course in General Linguistics''. Biography Sechehaye studied at the University of Geneva ...
, on the basis of notes taken from Saussure's lectures in Geneva. The ''Course'' became one of the
seminal Seminal, ultimately from Latin ''wikt:semen#Latin, semen'', "seed", may refer to: *Relating to seeds *Relating to semen *(Of a work, event, or person) Having much social influence on later developments {{Disambig ...
linguistics works of the 20th century not primarily for the content (many of the ideas had been anticipated in the works of other 20th century linguists) but for the innovative approach that Saussure applied in discussing linguistic phenomena. Its central notion is that language may be analyzed as a
formal system A formal system is an abstract structure used for inferring theorems from axioms according to a set of rules. These rules, which are used for carrying out the inference of theorems from axioms, are the logical calculus of the formal system. A for ...
of differential elements, apart from the messy dialectics of real-time production and comprehension. Examples of these elements include his notion of the
linguistic sign In semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavi ...
, which is composed of the signifier and the signified. Though the sign may also have a referent, Saussure took that to lie beyond the linguist's purview. Throughout the book, he stated that a linguist can develop a diachronic analysis of a text or theory of language but must learn just as much or more about the language/text as it exists at any moment in time (i.e. "synchronically"): "Language is a system of signs that expresses ideas". A science that studies the life of signs within society and is a part of social and general psychology. Saussure believed that semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign, and he called it semiology.


Laryngeal theory

While a student, Saussure published an important work in
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation ...
philology Philology is the study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languag ...
that proposed the existence of ghosts in Proto-Indo-European called ''sonant coefficients''. The Scandinavian scholar Hermann Möller suggested that they might actually be laryngeal consonants, leading to what is now known as the laryngeal theory. It has been argued that the problem that Saussure encountered, trying to explain how he was able to make systematic and predictive hypotheses from known linguistic data to unknown linguistic data, stimulated his development of
structuralism In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The t ...
. His predictions about the existence of primate coefficients/laryngeals and their evolution proved a success when
Hittite texts Hittite may refer to: * Hittites The Hittites () were an Anatolian peoples, Anatolian people who played an important role in establishing an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1680–1650 BCE. This empire reached its h ...
were discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later.


Influence outside linguistics

The principles and methods employed by structuralism were later adapted in diverse fields by French intellectuals such as
Roland Barthes Roland Gérard Barthes (; ; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980) was a French literary theorist Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an a ...

Roland Barthes
,
Jacques Lacan Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (, , ; 13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981) was a French psychoanalyst Psychoanalysis (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, ...

Jacques Lacan
,
Jacques Derrida Jacques Derrida (; ; born Jackie Élie Derrida; See also . July 15, 1930 – October 9, 2004), born in Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers ...
,
Michel Foucault Paul-Michel Foucault (, ; ; 15 October 192625 June 1984) was a French philosopher, History of ideas, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and Literary criticism, literary critic. Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship ...

Michel Foucault
and
Claude Lévi-Strauss Claude Lévi-Strauss (, ; 28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009) was a French anthropologist An anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the presen ...
. Such scholars took influence from Saussure's ideas in their own areas of study (literary studies/philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology, respectively).


View of language

Saussure approaches
theory of language Theory of language is a topic from philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics. It has the goal of answering the questions “What is language?”; "Why do languages have the properties they have?"; or "What is the origin of language?". Ev ...
from two different perspectives. On the one hand, language is a system of signs. That is, a semiotic system; or a semiological system as he himself calls it. On the other hand, a language is also a social phenomenon: a product of the language community.


Language as semiology


The bilateral sign

One of Saussure's key contributions to semiotics lies in what he called ''semiology'', the concept of the bilateral (two-sided) sign which consists of 'the signifier' (a linguistic form, e.g. a word) and 'the signified' (the meaning of the form). Saussure supported the argument for the arbitrariness of the sign although he did not deny the fact that some words are
onomatopoeic Onomatopoeia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. Such a word itself is also called an onomatopoeia. Common onomatopoeias include animal noises such as " oink", "meow ...

onomatopoeic
, or claim that picture-like symbols are fully arbitrary. Saussure also did not consider the linguistic sign as random, but as historically cemented. All in all, he did not invent the philosophy of arbitrariness, but made a very influential contribution to it. The arbitrariness of words of different languages itself is a fundamental concept in Western thinking of language, dating back to Ancient Greek philosophers. The question whether words are natural or arbitrary (and artificially made by people) returned as a controversial topic during the
Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment); ger, Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie , "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, link= ...
when the mediaeval scholastic dogma, that languages were created by God, became opposed by the advocates of
humanistic Humanism is a philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...

humanistic
philosophy. There were efforts to construct a 'universal language', based on the lost
Adamic language The Adamic language, according to Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are members of an ethnoreligious group and a nation originating from the Israelites Israelite origins and kingdo ...
, with various attempts to uncover universal words or characters which would be readily understood by all people regardless of their nationality.
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
, on the other hand, was among those who believed that languages were a rational human innovation, and argued for the arbitrariness of words. Saussure took it for granted in his time that "No one disputes the principle of the arbitrary nature of the sign." He however disagreed with the common notion that each word corresponds "to the thing that it names" or what is called the
referent A referent () is a person or thing to which a name – a linguistics, linguistic Phrase, expression or other symbol – reference, refers. For example, in the sentence ''Mary saw me'', the referent of the word ''Mary'' is the particular person calle ...
in modern semiotics. For example, In Saussure's notion, the word 'tree' does not refer to a tree as a physical object, but to the psychological ''concept'' of a tree. The linguistic sign thus arises from the psychological ''association'' between the signifier (a 'sound-image') and the signified (a 'concept'). There can therefore be no linguistic expression without meaning, but also no meaning without linguistic expression. Saussure's structuralism, as it later became called, therefore includes an implication of
linguistic relativity The hypothesis of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis , the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language affects its speakers' world view or cognition, and thus people' ...
. The naming of spectral colours exemplifies how meaning and expression arise simultaneously from their interlinkage. Different colour frequencies are per se meaningless, or mere ''substance'' or meaning potential. Likewise,
phonemic In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any partic ...
combinations which are not associated with any content are only meaningless expression potential, and therefore not considered as ''signs''. It is only when a region of the spectrum is outlined and given an arbitrary name, for example 'blue', that the sign emerges. The sign consists of the ''signifier'' ('blue') and of the ''signified'' (the colour region), and of the associative link which connects them. Arising from an arbitrary demarcation of meaning potential, the signified is not a property of the physical world. In Saussure's concept, language is ultimately not a function of reality, but a self-contained system. Thus, Saussure's semiology entails a bilateral (two-sided) perspective of semiotics. The same idea is applied to any concept. For example, natural law does not dictate which plants are 'trees' and which are 'shrubs' or a different type of
woody plant A woody plant is a plant that produces wood as its structural tissue and thus has a hard stem. In cold climates, woody plants further survive winter or dry season above ground, as opposite to Herbaceous plant, herbaceous plants that die back to t ...
; or whether these should be divided into further groups. Like blue, all signs gain semantic ''value'' in opposition to other signs of the system (e.g. red, colourless). If more signs emerge (e.g. 'marine blue), the
semantic field In , a semantic field is a lexical set of words grouped (by ) that refers to a specific subject.Howard Jackson, Etienne Zé Amvela, ''Words, Meaning, and Vocabulary'', Continuum, 2000, p14. The term is also used in ,Ingold, Tim (1996). ''Key deba ...
of the original word may narrow down. Conversely, words may become antiquated, whereby competition for the semantic field lessens. Or, the meaning of a word may change altogether. After his death,
structural A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A sy ...
and functional linguists applied Saussure's concept to the analysis of the linguistic form as motivated by meaning. The opposite direction of the linguistic expressions as giving rise to the conceptual system, on the other hand, became the foundation of the post-Second World War structuralists who adopted Saussure's concept of structural linguistics as the model for all human sciences as the study of how language shapes our concepts of the world. Thus, Saussure's model became important not only for linguistics, but for
humanities Humanities are academic disciplines An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

humanities
and
social sciences Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biol ...

social sciences
as a whole.


Opposition theory

A second key contribution comes from Saussure's notion of the organisation of language based on the principle of opposition. Saussure made a distinction between meaning (significance) and ''value''. On the semantic side, concepts gain value by being contrasted with related concepts, creating a conceptual system which could in modern terms be described as a
semantic network A semantic network, or frame network is a knowledge base A knowledge base (KB) is a technology used to information storage, store complex structured data, structured and unstructured information used by a computer system. The initial use of ...
. On the level of the sound-image, phonemes and morphemes gain value by being contrasted with related phonemes and morphemes; and on the level of the grammar, parts of speech gain value by being contrasted with each other. Each element within each system is eventually contrasted with all other elements in different types of relations so that no two elements have the exact same value: :"Within the same language, all words used to express related ideas limit each other reciprocally; synonyms like French ''redouter'' 'dread', ''craindre'' 'fear,' and ''avoir peur'' 'be afraid' have value only through their opposition: if ''redouter'' did not exist, all its content would go to its competitors." Saussure defined his own theory in terms of binary oppositions: ''sign—signified, meaning—value, language—speech, synchronic—diachronic, internal linguistics—external linguistics'', and so on. The related term
markedness In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...
denotes the assessment of value between binary oppositions. These were studied extensively by post-war structuralists such as
Claude Lévi-Strauss Claude Lévi-Strauss (, ; 28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009) was a French anthropologist An anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the presen ...
to explain the organisation of social conceptualisation, and later by the post-structuralists to criticise it. Based on markedness theory, the Prague Linguistic Circle made great advances in the study of
phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lang ...

phonetics
reforming it as the systemic study of
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
. Although the terms opposition and markedness are rightly associated with Saussure's concept of language as a semiological system, he did not invent the terms and concepts which had been discussed by various 19th century grammarians before him.


Language as a social phenomenon

In his treatment of language as a 'social fact', Saussure touches topics that were controversial in his time, and that would continue to split opinions in the post-war structuralist movement. Saussure's relationship with 19th century theories of language was somewhat ambivalent. These included social Darwinism and Völkerpsychologie or
Volksgeist ''Geist'' () is a German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German l ...
thinking which were regarded by many intellectuals as nationalist and racist
pseudoscience Pseudoscience consists of statements, belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology include ...
. Saussure, however, considered the ideas useful if treated in a proper way. Instead of discarding August Schleicher's organicism or Heymann Steinthal's "spirit of the nation", he restricted their sphere in ways that were meant to preclude any Chauvinism, chauvinistic interpretations. Organic analogy Saussure exploited the sociobiological concept of language as a living organism. He criticises August Schleicher and Max Müller's ideas of languages as organisms struggling for living space, but settles with promoting the idea of linguistics as a natural science as long as the study of the 'organism' of language excludes its adaptation to its territory. This concept would be modified in post-Saussurean linguistics by the Prague circle linguists
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
and Nikolai Trubetzkoy, and eventually diminished.


The speech circuit

Perhaps the most famous of Saussure's ideas is the distinction between language and speech (French language, Fr. ''langue et parole''), with 'speech' referring to the individual occurrences of language usage. These constitute two parts of three of Saussure's 'speech circuit' (''circuit de parole''). The third part is the brain, that is, the mind of the individual member of the language community. This idea is in principle borrowed from Steinthal, so Saussure concept of a language as a social fact corresponds to "Volksgeist", although he was careful to preclude any nationalistic interpretations. In Saussure's and Durkheim's thinking, social facts and norms do not elevate the individuals, but shackle them. Saussure's definition of language is statistical rather than idealised. ::"Among all the individuals that are linked together by speech, some sort of average will be set up : all will reproduce — not exactly of course, but approximately — the same signs united with the same concepts." Saussure argues that language is a 'social fact'; a conventionalised set of rules or norms relating to speech. When at least two people are engaged in conversation, there forms a communicative circuit between the minds of the individual speakers. Saussure explains that language, as a social system, is neither situated in ''speech'' nor in the mind. It only properly exists between the two within the loop. It is located in – and is the product of – the collective mind of the linguistic group. An individual has to learn the normative rules of language and can never control them. The task of the linguist is to study language by analysing samples of speech. For practical reasons, this is ordinarily the analysis of written texts. The idea that language is studied through texts is by no means revolutionary as it had been the common practice since the beginning of linguistics. Saussure does not advise against introspection and takes up many linguistic examples without reference to a source in a text corpus. The idea that linguistics is not the study of the mind, however, contradicts Wilhelm Wundt's Völkerpsychologie in Saussure's contemporary context; and in a later context, generative grammar and cognitive linguistics.


A legacy of ideological disputes


Structuralism versus generative grammar

Saussure's influence was restricted in American linguistics which was dominated by the advocates of Wilhelm Wundt's Structuralism (psychology), psychological approach to language, especially
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), ges ...
(1887–1949). The Bloomfieldian school rejected Saussure's and other structuralists' sociological or even anti-psychological (e.g.
Louis Hjelmslev Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (; 3 October 189930 May 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every ...
, Lucien Tesnière) approaches to
theory of language Theory of language is a topic from philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics. It has the goal of answering the questions “What is language?”; "Why do languages have the properties they have?"; or "What is the origin of language?". Ev ...
. Problematically, the post-Bloomfieldian school was nicknamed 'American structuralism', causing confusion. Although Bloomfield denounced Wundt's Völkerpsychologie and opted for behavioural psychology in his 1933 textbook ''Language'', he and other American linguists stuck to Wundt's practice of analysing the Object (grammar), grammatical object as part of the verb phrase. Since this practice is not semantically motivated, they argued for the disconnectedness of syntax from semantics, thus fully rejecting structuralism. The question remained why the object should be in the verb phrase, vexing American linguists for decades. The post-Bloomfieldian approach was eventually reformed as a sociobiological framework by Noam Chomsky who argued that linguistics is a cognitive science; and claimed that linguistic structures are the manifestation of a random mutation in the human genome. Advocates of the new school, generative grammar, claim that Saussure's structuralism has been reformed and replaced by Chomsky's modern approach to linguistics. Jan Koster asserts: ::it is certainly the case that Saussure, considered the most important linguist of the century in Europe until the 1950s, hardly plays a role in current theoretical thinking about language. As a result of the Chomskyan revolution, linguistics has gone through a number of conceptual transformations which have led to all kinds of technical pre-occupations that are far beyond linguistic practice of the days of Saussure. For the most it seems Saussure has rightly sunk into near oblivion.Koster, Jan. 1996. "Saussure meets the brain", in R. Jonkers, E. Kaan, J. K. Wiegel, eds., Language and Cognition 5. Yearbook 1992 of the Research Group for Linguistic Theory and Knowledge Representation of the University of Groningen, Groningen, pp. 115–12
PDF
/ref> French historian and philosopher François Dosse however argues that there have been various misunderstandings. He points out that Chomsky's criticism of 'structuralism' is directed at the Bloomfieldian school and not the proper address of the term; and that structural linguistics is not to be reduced to mere sentence analysis. It is also argued that ::"‘Chomsky the Saussurean’ is nothing but “an academic fable”. This fable is a result of misreading – by Chomsky himself (1964) and also by others – of Saussure’s ''la langue'' (in the singular form) as generativist concept of ‘competence’ and, therefore, its grammar as the Universal Grammar (UG)."


Saussure versus the social Darwinists

Saussure's ''Course in General Linguistics'' begins and ends with a criticism of 19th century linguistics where he is especially critical of Geist#Volksgeist, Volkgeist thinking and the evolutionary linguistics of August Schleicher and his colleagues. Saussure's ideas replaced social Darwinism in Europe as it was banished from
humanities Humanities are academic disciplines An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

humanities
at the end of World War II. The publication of Richard Dawkins's memetics in 1976 brought the Darwinian idea of linguistic units as cultural replicators back to vogue. It became necessary for adherents of this movement to redefine linguistics in a way that would be simultaneously anti-Saussurean and anti-Chomskyan. This led to a redefinition of old humanistic terms such as structuralism, formalism, functionalism and constructionism along Darwinian lines through debates which were marked by an acrimonious tone. In a functionalism–formalism debate of the decades following ''The Selfish Gene'', the 'Evolutionary linguistics#Functionalism (adaptationism), functionalism' camp attacking Saussure's legacy includes frameworks such as Cognitive Linguistics, Construction Grammar, Usage-based linguistics and Emergent grammar, Emergent Linguistics. Arguing for 'functional-typological theory', William Croft (linguist), William Croft criticises Saussure's use or the Organicism, organic analogy: ::When comparing functional-typological theory to biological theory, one must take care to avoid a caricature of the latter. In particular, in comparing the structure of language to an ecosystem, one must not assume that in contemporary biological theory, it is believed that an organism possesses a perfect adaptation to a stable niche inside an ecosystem in equilibrium. The analogy of a language as a perfectly adapted 'organic' system where ''tout se tient'' is a characteristic of the structuralist approach, and was prominent in early structuralist writing. The static view of adaptation in biology is not tenable in the face of empirical evidence of nonadaptive variation and competing adaptive motivations of organisms. Structural linguist Henning Andersen (linguist), Henning Andersen disagrees with Croft. He criticises memetics and other models of cultural evolution and points out that the concept of 'adaptation' is not to be taken in linguistics in the same meaning as in biology. Humanistic and structuralistic notions are likewise defended by Esa Itkonen and Jacques François; the Saussurean standpoint is explained and defended by Tomáš Hoskovec, representing the Prague Linguistic Circle. Conversely, other cognitive linguists claim to continue and expand Saussure's work on the bilateral sign. Dutch philologist Elise Elffers, however, argues that their view of the subject is incompatible with Saussure's own ideas.


Political controversies

There had long been disagreements between structuralists and Marxism, Marxists, and after the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, structural linguists who found themselves behind the Iron Curtain were labelled dissidents. From 1948 onwards the communist government of Czechoslovakia forced the Prague Linguistic Circle to publish a series of writings repudiating structuralism, and to rally around the banner of dialectical materialism. For example, Jan Mukařovský publicly denounced structuralism in his 'confession' as the product of 'bourgeois scholarship', arguing that its role ::"in the service of the warmongers is to subvert the worker's consciousness by stirring a distrust of the power of knowledge, spreading individualism and subjectivism, concealing the insoluble inner contradictions of perishing capitalism." The original Prague Linguistic Circle disbanded in 1953 due to its problems with the socialist regime. In Western Europe, in contrast, Saussure's work became widely influential as the structuralists led by
Michel Foucault Paul-Michel Foucault (, ; ; 15 October 192625 June 1984) was a French philosopher, History of ideas, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and Literary criticism, literary critic. Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship ...

Michel Foucault
rose to academic power at the Sorbonne after the student revolts of May 68#France, Spring 1968. Their intention was to replace Marxism by redefining leftism as a struggle for Social equality, equality of all social categories. Structural linguistics was taken as the model science for humanities. Soon enough it was however noted that, as a scientific enterprise, structuralism was too conservative to serve the purpose. This led to new paradigms of post-structuralism.
Jacques Derrida Jacques Derrida (; ; born Jackie Élie Derrida; See also . July 15, 1930 – October 9, 2004), born in Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers ...
's deconstructionism, for example, does not take as its goal the recognition of binary oppositions but that of their deconstruction. Structuralism also became criticised for its denial that the individual can change the social norm, and labelled as 'anti-
humanistic Humanism is a philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...

humanistic
' by many. The post-structuralists, after having extended their method to natural sciences, were eventually attacked by Chomsky's allies, including Jean Bricmont, in the Science Wars. The term 'structuralism' continues to be used in Structural linguistics, structural–functional linguistics which despite the contrary claims defines itself as a humanistic approach to language.


Works

* (1878) ''Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes'' [= Dissertation on the Primitive System of Vowels in Indo-European Languages]. Leipzig: Teubner.
online version
in Gallica Program, Bibliothèque nationale de France). * (1881) ''De l'emploi du génitif absolu en Sanscrit: Thèse pour le doctorat présentée à la Faculté de Philosophie de l'Université de Leipzig'' [= On the Use of the Genitive Absolute in Sanskrit: Doctoral thesis presented to the Philosophy Department of Leipzig University]. Geneva: Jules-Guillamaume Fick.
online version
on the Internet Archive). * (1916) '' Cours de linguistique générale'', eds. Charles Bally & Alert Sechehaye, with the assistance of Albert Riedlinger. Lausanne – Paris: Payot. ** 1st trans.: Wade Baskin, trans. ''Course in General Linguistics''. New York: The Philosophical Society, 1959; subsequently edited by Perry Meisel & Haun Saussy, NY: Columbia University Press, 2011. ** 2nd trans.: Roy Harris, trans. ''Course in General Linguistics''. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1983. * (1922) ''Recueil des publications scientifiques de F. de Saussure''. Eds. Charles Bally & Léopold Gautier. Lausanne – Geneva: Payot. * (1993) ''Saussure’s Third Course of Lectures in General Linguistics (1910–1911) from the Notebooks of Emile Constantin''. (Language and Communication series, vol. 12). French text edited by Eisuke Komatsu & trans. by Roy Harris. Oxford: Pergamon Press. * (1995) ''Phonétique: Il manoscritto di Harvard Houghton Library bMS Fr 266 (8)''. Ed. Maria Pia Marchese. Padova: Unipress, 1995. * (2002) ''Écrits de linguistique générale''. Eds. Simon Bouquet & Rudolf Engler. Paris: Gallimard. . ** Trans.: Carol Sanders & Matthew Pires, trans. ''Writings in General Linguistics''. NY: Oxford University Press, 2006. ** This volume, which consists mostly of material previously published by Rudolf Engler, includes an attempt at reconstructing a text from a set of Saussure's manuscript pages headed "The Double Essence of Language", found in 1996 in Geneva. These pages contain ideas already familiar to Saussure scholars, both from Engler's critical edition of the Course and from another unfinished book manuscript of Saussure's, published in 1995 by Maria Pia Marchese. * (2013) ''Anagrammes homériques''. Ed. Pierre-Yves Testenoire. Limoges: Lambert Lucas. * (2014) ''Une vie en lettres 1866 – 1913''. Ed. Claudia Mejía Quijano. ed. Nouvelles Cécile Defaut.


See also

* Theory of language * Geneva School * Jan Baudouin de Courtenay


Notes


References


Sources

* Culler, J. (1976). ''Saussure''. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins. * Ducrot, O. and Todorov, T. (1981). ''Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of Language'', trans. C. Porter. Oxford: Blackwell. * Harris, R. (1987). ''Reading Saussure''. London: Duckworth. * Holdcroft, D. (1991). ''Saussure: Signs, System, and Arbitrariness''. Cambridge University Press. * Веселинов, Д. (2008). ''Българските студенти на Фердинанд дьо Сосюр (The bulgarian students of Ferdinand de Saussure)''. Университетско издателство "Св. Климент Охридски" (Sofia University Press). * Joseph, J. E. (2012). ''Saussure''. Oxford University Press. * * Wittmann, Henri (1974). "New tools for the study of Saussure's contribution to linguistic thought." ''Historiographia Linguistica'' 1.255-64


External links

* *
''The poet who could smell vowels''
an article in The Times Literary Supplement by John E. Joseph, November 14, 2007.
Original texts and resources
published by ''Texto'', .
Hearing Heidegger and Saussure
by Elmer G. Wines.
Cercle Ferdinand de Saussure
Swiss society devoted to Saussurean studies. {{DEFAULTSORT:Saussure, Ferdinand De Ferdinand de Saussure, 1857 births 1913 deaths 19th-century linguists 19th-century Swiss philosophers 20th-century linguists 20th-century Swiss philosophers 20th-century Swiss non-fiction writers Balticists De Saussure family members, Ferdinand Linguists of Indo-European languages Leipzig University alumni Linguistic turn Linguists from Switzerland People from Geneva Philosophers of culture Philosophers of language Philosophers of psychology Semioticians Structuralists University of Geneva alumni