Ferdinand de Saussure 1857-1913. Course in General Linguistics Saussure is credited with being the father of structural linguistics. Structural linguistics.
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Course in General Linguistics Saussure is credited with being the father of structural linguistics. Structural linguistics is based on the idea that language is a self-regulating and self-contained system. 2
Parole and Langue Parole - “living language” or individual speech acts. Langue - the shared system of language in a society. 3
Structure “Speaking operates only on a language-state, and the changes that intervene between states have no place in either state” (89). 4
Synchronic and Diachronic Synchronic: to describe the pieces on the board at any given moment (Static linguistics). Diachronic: To describe how they have reached these positions (Evolutionary linguistics). 5
Language as a system of signs Language is a process of naming, but this does not mean that “ready made ideas exist before words” (Saussure 65), but rather: “The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound- image” (66). 6
The Nature of the Linguistic “Sign” Signifier (the mental impression of the sound image “tree”) + Signified (the concept “tree”) = Sign 7
The relationship between signifier and signified is purely arbitrary. There is nothing that logically links a particular sound image to a concept. 8 Words are arbitrary
Saussure acknowledges two possible objections to the principle that all signs are purely arbitrary: onomatopoeia and interjections. However, he claims that these also only have meanings that have been agreed upon within the community. Arbitrariness cont. 10
Linguistic Value “Psychologically our thought--apart from its expression in words--is only a shapeless and indistinct mass” (Saussure 111). Thought and sound are like the front and back of a piece of paper -- and the paper makes up the linguistic sign. 11
Linguistic Value, cont. Value is determined by relations between signs within the system of signification, not by the relationship between signified and signifier: “Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others” (Saussure 114). 12
Difference Linguistic value depends on Difference: “Each linguistic term derives its value from its opposition to all the other terms” (Saussure 88). This aspect of language leads to binary opposites and the linearity of language, themes taken up in structural and post- structural literary theory. 13
Saussure and Structuralism “Literary structuralism flourished in the 1960s as an attempt to apply to literature the methods and insights of the founder of modern structural linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure” (Eagleton 84).
Saussure and Structuralism cont. The application of the linguistic theory of structuralism to literature is informed primarily by three elements defined by Saussure: Language as sychronic rather than diachronic The arbitrariness of the linguistic sign Linguistic value depends of DIFFERENCE
Literary Structuralism One example of the application of literary structuralism comes from the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who examined myths in terms of a language, closely mirroring Saussure’s theories of language (Eagleton 90). Narrative is ultimately a type of grammar.
Saussure and Post-Structuralism Because Saussure posits meaning as a result of differences, his linguistic theory is important for post-structuralism. Post- structuralism is, however, rather more a departure from the structure of Saussure, but it is a departure in the sense of extension rather than corruption.
Saussure and Post-Structuralism “The signifier does not yield us up a signified directly, as a mirror yields up an image: there is no harmonious one-to- one set of correspondences between the level of the signifiers and the level of signifieds in language....there is no fixed distinction between signifiers & signifieds” (Eagleton 110-11).
Post-Structuralism Cont. Meaning is always in some sense suspended, for you never reach the end of the possible meanings - the end of the relationship between signifiers and signifieds. This suspension of meaning is sometimes described in terms of a “chain of signification.”
Works Consulted Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Matthews, P.H. Linguistics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Sanders, Carol. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Saussure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. Ed. Charles Bally and Albert Reidlinger. Trans. Wade Baskin. New York: Philosophical Library, 1959. 20