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Ferdinand de Saussure 1857-1913

Saussure is credited with being the father of structural linguistics.

Structural linguistics is based on the idea that language is a self-regulating and selfcontained system.
Parole and Langue
Parole - living language or individual speech acts.
Langue - the shared system of language in a society.
Speaking operates only on a language-state, and the changes that intervene between states have
no place in either state
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
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
The Nature of the Linguistic Sign
Signifier (the mental impression of the sound image tree)
+ Signified (the concept tree)
= Sign
Words are arbitrary
The relationship between signifier and signified is purely arbitrary.
There is nothing that logically links a particular sound image to a concept.
Arbitrariness cont.
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.
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.
Linguistic Value, cValue 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
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.
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
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
Saussures 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
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
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.