Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure (/soʊˈsjʊər/; French: [fɛʁdinɑ̃
də sosyʁ]; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss
linguist and semiotician. His ideas laid a foundation for many
significant developments in both linguistics and semiology 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) of semiotics/semiology.
One of his translators, Roy Harris, summarized Saussure's contribution
to linguistics and the study of "the whole range of human sciences. It
is particularly marked in linguistics, philosophy, psychology,
sociology and anthropology." 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.
Prague school linguist Jan Mukařovský
writes that Saussure's "discovery of the internal structure of the
linguistic sign 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 argues
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".
2 Work and influence
2.1 Course in General Linguistics
2.2 Laryngeal theory
2.3 Later critics
2.5 Influence outside linguistics
4 See also
7 External links
He was born in
Geneva in 1857. His father was Henri Louis Frédéric
de Saussure, a mineralogist, entomologist, and taxonomist. Saussure
showed signs of considerable talent and intellectual ability as early
as the age of fourteen. 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 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,
Ancient Greek and
Sanskrit and taking
a variety of courses at the University of Geneva, he commenced
graduate work at the
University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig 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
University of Berlin under the Privatdozenten Heinrich Zimmer, 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, where he lectured on Sanskrit, Gothic and Old
High German and occasionally other subjects.
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure is one of the world’s most quoted linguists,
which is remarkable as he himself has 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 grammer 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.
He taught at the
École pratique des hautes études for eleven years
during which he was named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of
the Legion of Honor). When offered a professorship in
1892, he returned to Switzerland. Saussure lectured on
Indo-European at the 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,
Switzerland. His brother was the Esperantist René de Saussure, and
his son was the psychoanalyst Raymond de Saussure.
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
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)
Work and influence
Saussure's theoretical reconstructions of the Proto-Indo-European
language vocalic system and particularly his theory of laryngeals,
otherwise unattested at the time, bore fruit and found confirmation
after the decipherment of Hittite in the work of later generations of
linguists such as
Émile Benveniste and Walter Couvreur, who both drew
direct inspiration from their reading of the 1878 Mémoire.
Saussure also had a major impact on the development of linguistic
theory in the first half of the 20th century. His two currents of
thought emerged independently of each other, one in Europe, the other
in America. The results of each incorporated the basic notions of
Saussure's thought in forming the central tenets of structural
linguistics. His status in contemporary theoretical linguistics is
much diminished, with many key positions now dated or subject to
challenge, but post-structuralist 21st-century reception remains more
open to Saussure's influence.
In Europe, the most important work in that period of influence was
done by the Prague school. Most notably,
Nikolay Trubetzkoy and Roman
Jakobson headed the efforts of the Prague School in setting the course
of phonological theory in the decades from 1940. Jakobson's
universalizing structural-functional theory of phonology, based on a
markedness hierarchy of distinctive features, was the first successful
solution of a plane of linguistic analysis according to the Saussurean
Louis Hjelmslev and the Copenhagen School
proposed new interpretations of linguistics from structuralist
In America, Saussure's ideas informed the distributionalism of Leonard
Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldian structuralism of such
scholars as Eugene Nida, Bernard Bloch, George L. Trager, Rulon S.
Charles Hockett and, through Zellig Harris, the young Noam
Chomsky. In addition to Chomsky's theory of transformational grammar,
other contemporary developments of structuralism included Kenneth
Pike's theory of tagmemics, Sidney Lamb's theory of stratificational
grammar, and Michael Silverstein's work. Systemic functional
linguistics is a theory considered to be based firmly on the
Saussurean principles of the sign, albeit with some modifications.
Ruqaiya Hasan describes systemic functional linguistics as a
'post-Saussurean' linguistic theory.
Michael Halliday argues:
Saussure took the sign as the organizing concept for linguistic
structure, using it to express the conventional nature of language in
the phrase "l'arbitraire du signe". This has the effect of
highlighting what is, in fact, the one point of arbitrariness in the
system, namely the phonological shape of words, and hence allows the
non-arbitrariness of the rest to emerge with greater clarity. An
example of something that is distinctly non-arbitrary is the way
different kinds of meaning in language are expressed by different
kinds of grammatical structure, as appears when linguistic structure
is interpreted in functional terms 
Course in General Linguistics
Main article: Course in General Linguistics
Saussure's most influential work, Course in General
de linguistique générale), was published posthumously in 1916 by
Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, on the basis of
notes taken from Saussure's lectures in Geneva. The Course became one
of the seminal 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
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, 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, he called it semiology.
While a student, Saussure published an important work in Indo-European
philology 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. His predictions about the existence of primate
coefficients/laryngeals and their evolution proved a success when
Hittite texts were discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later.
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The closing sentence of Saussure's Course in General
been challenged in many[weasel words] academic disciplines and
subdisciplines with its contention that "linguistics has as its unique
and true object the language envisioned in itself and for itself".
By the latter half of the 20th century, many of Saussure's ideas were
under heavy criticism.
Saussure's linguistic ideas are still considered important for their
time but have suffered considerably subsequently under rhetorical
developments aimed at showing how linguistics had changed or was
changing with the times. As a consequence, Saussure's ideas are now
often presented by professional linguists as outdated and as
superseded by developments such as cognitive linguistics and
generative grammar or have been so modified in their basic tenets as
to make their use in their original formulations difficult without
risking distortion, as in systemic linguistics. That development is
occasionally overstated, however;
Jan Koster states, "Saussure,
considered the most important linguist of the century in Europe until
the 1950s, hardly plays a role in current theoretical thinking about
language," More accurate[speculation?] would be to say that
Saussure's contributions have been absorbed into how language is
approached at such a fundamental level as to be, for many intents and
purposes, invisible, much like the contributions of the Neogrammarians
in the 19th century. Over-reactions can also be seen in comments of
the cognitive linguist Mark Turner who reports that many of
Saussure's concepts were "wrong on a grand scale". It is necessary to
be rather more finely nuanced in the positions attributed to Saussure
and in their longterm influence on the development of linguistic
theorizing in all schools; for a more recent rereading of Saussure
with respect to such issues, see Paul Thibault. Just as many
principles of structural linguistics are still pursued, modified and
adapted in current practice and according to what has been learnt
since about the embodied functioning of brain and the role of language
within this, basic tenets begun with Saussure still can be found
operating behind the scenes today.
Saussure is one of the founding fathers of semiotics, which he called
semiology. His concept of the sign/signifier/signified/referent forms
the core of the field. Equally crucial but often overlooked or
misapplied is the dimension of the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes
of linguistic description.
Instead of focusing his theory on the origins of language and its
historical aspects, Saussure concentrated on the patterns and
functions of language itself. Although the name has been changed to
semiotics, his theory is still commonly used in today's society. He
also believed that the relationship that exists between the signifier
and the signified is purely arbitrary and analytical.
Some linguists have pointed out to the fact that Saussure did not
'invent' semiotics but built upon Aristotelian and neoplatonist
knowledge from the Middle Ages, particularly in regard to the writings
of Augustine of Hippo: "as for the constitution of Saussurian semiotic
theory, the importance of the Augustinian thought contribution
(correlated to the Stoic one) has also been recognized. Saussure did
not do anything but reform an ancient theory in Europe, according to
the modern conceptual exigencies".
Influence outside linguistics
The principles and methods employed by structuralism were later
adapted by French intellectuals in diverse fields such as Roland
Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Such scholars took
influence from Saussure's ideas in their own areas of study (literary
studies/philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology, respectively).
However, their analogous interpretations of Saussure's linguistic
theories led to proclamations of the end of structuralism in the two
(1878) Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues
indo-européennes (Memoir 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
dissertation presented to the Faculty of
Philosophy of the Leipzig
University) Geneva: Jules-Guillamaume Fick. (online version on the
(1916) Cours de linguistique générale, ed. C. Bally and A.
Sechehaye, with the collaboration of A. Riedlinger, Lausanne and
Paris: Payot; trans. W. Baskin, Course in General Linguistics,
Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1977.
(1922) Recueil des publications scientifiques de F. de Saussure, ed.
C. Bally and L. Gautier, Lausanne and Geneva: Payot.
(1993) Saussure’s Third Course of Lectures in General Linguistics
(1910–1911): Emile Constantin ders notlarından,
Communication series, volume. 12, trans. and ed. E. Komatsu and R.
Harris, Oxford: Pergamon.
(2002) Écrits de linguistique générale,
This volume, which consists mostly of material previously published by
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 (Phonétique: Il manoscritto di Harvard
Houghton Library bMS Fr 266 (8), Padova: Unipress, 1995).
Axiom of categoricity
Jan Baudouin de Courtenay
^ Mark Aronoff, Janie Rees-Miller (eds.), The Handbook of Linguistics,
John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 96. However, E. F. K. Koerner
maintains that Saussure was not influenced by Durkheim (Ferdinand de
Saussure: Origin and Development of His Linguistic Thought in Western
Studies of Language. A contribution to the history and theory of
linguistics, Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn [Oxford &
Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press], 1973, pp. 45–61.)
^ , WFU Le Francais Moderne – Qu'est-ce que la sociolinguistique
^ "Saussure, Ferdinand de". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford
^ Robins, R. H. 1979. A Short History of Linguistics, 2nd Edition.
Linguistics Library. London and New York. p. 201: Robins
writes Saussure's statement of "the structural approach to language
underlies virtually the whole of modern linguistics".
^ Harris, R. and T. J. Taylor. 1989. Landmarks in Linguistic Thought:
The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. 2nd Edition. Chapter
^ Justin Wintle, Makers of modern culture, Routledge, 2002, p. 467.
^ David Lodge, Nigel Wood, Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader,
Pearson Education, 2008, p. 42.
^ Thomas, Margaret. 2011. Fifty Key Thinkers on
Linguistics. Routledge: London and New York. p. 145 ff.
^ Chapman, S. and C. Routledge. 2005. Key Thinkers in
Philosophy of Language. Edinburgh University Press. p.241 ff.
^ Winfried Nöth, Handbook of Semiotics, Bloomington, Indiana
University Press, 1990.
^ Harris, R. 1988. Language, Saussure and Wittgenstein. Routledge.
^ Mukarovsky, J. 1977. On Poetic Language. The Word and Verbal Art:
Selected Essays by Jan Mukarovsky. Translated and edited by J. Burbank
and Peter Steiner. p. 18.
^ a b
Linguistic sign and the science of linguistics: the foundations
of appliability. In Fang Yan & Jonathan Webster (eds.)Developing
Systemic Functional Linguistics. Equinox 2013
^ 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).
^ Joseph, John E. (2012-03-22). Saussure. OUP Oxford.
^ Joseph, John E. (2012-03-22). Saussure. OUP Oxford.
^ Joseph (2012:253)
^ Ferdinand de Saussure, « Aaccentuation lituanienne ».
In : Indogermanische Forschungen. Vol. 6, 157 – 166
^ Kurschat, Friedrich (1843, 1858). Beiträge zur Kunde der
littauischen Sprache. Erstes Heft: Deutsch-littauische Phraseologie
der Präpositionen. Königsberg 1843, Zweites Heft: Laut- und Tonlehre
der littauischen Sprache. Königsberg 1849. Check date values
in: date= (help)
^ Jürgen Trabant, « Saussure contre le Cours ». In:
Francois Rastier (Hrsg.): De l'essence double du langage et le
renouveau du saussurisme. Limoges: Lambert-Lucas.
^ Culler, p. 23
^ E. F. K. Koerner, 'The Place of Saussure's Memoire in the
development of historical linguistics,' in Jacek Fisiak (ed.) Papers
from the Sixth International Conference on Historical
Linguistics,(Poznań, Poland, 1983) John Benjamins Publishing, 1985
^ Boris Gasparov. Beyond Pure Reason, pp1-8, 2010.
^ John Earl Joseph (2002). From Whitney to Chomsky: Essays in the
History OfAmerican Linguisitcs. John Benjamins Publishing.
p. 139. ISBN 978-90-272-4592-2.
^ Halliday, MAK. 1977. Ideas about Language. Reprinted in Volume 3 of
MAK Halliday's Collected Works. Edited by J.J. Webster. London:
^ Boris Gasparov. Beyond Pure Reason, pp59-60, 2010.
^ 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. 115–120.PDF
^ Turner, Mark. 1987. Death is the Mother of Beauty: Mind, Metaphor,
Criticism. University of Chicago Press, p. 6.
^ Thibault, Paul. 1996. Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in
Social Life. London: Routledge.
^ Munteanu, E. 'On the Object-Language/Metalanaguage Distinction in
Saint Augustine's Works. De Dialectica and de Magistro.', p. 65. In
Cram, D., Linn, A. R., & Nowak, E. (Eds.). History of Linguistics
1996: Volume 2: From Classical to Contemporary Linguistics. John
Benjamins Publishing Company. Retrieved April 16th 2015 from
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.
Sanders, Carol (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Saussure. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80486-8.
Wittmann, Henri (1974). "New tools for the study of Saussure's
contribution to linguistic thought." Historiographia Linguistica
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