Saussure

I’ve been reading about Ferdinand de Saussure:

“along with Freud and Weber he is one of the seminal thinkers of the twentieth century, he revolutionised the study of linguistics and language and laid the foundations of modern linguistics.
But even more important are the implications of Saussure’s ideas for the social sciences in general. For in outlining a general science of signs, semiology, he provided a means of analysing the system of conventions which give significance to human behaviour.”

– Jonathon Culler, 1976

His viewpoint and breaking down of language is fascinating, never thought or looked at it quite like this, it is very in-depth. Although most simple he says

‘language is a system of signs’

‘Noises count as language only when they serve to express or communicate ideas’ He introduces the idea of ‘signifier‘ and the ‘signified‘ where the signifier is the union of a form which signifies; the signified is the idea signified.

‘language is arbitrary’

…there is no natural or inevitable link between the signifier and the signified.

I like his way of defining something by defining that which it is not, only by looking at the differences and oppositions with other words and ‘Signifieds are members of a system and are defined by their relations to the other members of that system.’ and what they mean can you really being to understand that initial word fully. You only know what a sign signifies by what it definitely isn’t, because that would be signified by a different sign. You don’t study the isolated sign but the system of distinctions.

e.g. when considering colour terms for a good example, brown is what is not red, black, yellow, grey, etc. and the same holds for each of the other signifieds.

another example he uses to back his point is that considering a game of chess, ‘the basic units of chess are obviously king, queen, rook, knight, bishop and pawn but the actual physical shape of the pieces and the material form which they are made is of no importance. If you lost a piece it could be replaced with any other sort of object providing that this object will not be confused with the objects representing pieces of a different value.

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Saussure

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