Earl Jackson, Jr.
Ferdinand de Saussure.
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) was a Swiss linguist and sanskritist,
who excelled early in his career in Indo-European philology. A lecturer
in linguistics at École des Hautes Études in Paris from 1881
to 1891. From 1901-1913 he was a professor of Indo-European linguistics
and Sanskrit, and from 1907-1913 a professor General Linguistics at the
University Geneva. The work he is most famous for, A Course in General
Linguistics, was actually put together from his lecture notes by his students
after his death. It is here we find his greatest influence.
|Three Important Binary Oppositions
in Saussure’s Thought:
Langue / parole
Form / substance
Synchronic / diachronic
|Semiology: a science of signs and meanings.
a union of signifer and signified.
of the sign.
Meaning of sign determined by its position within
a signifying system.
|The concept of value in a
system of meaning.
Two Types of Sign-relations
Syntagmatic / Associative
„Words as used in discourse, strung together one after
another, enter into relations based on the linear character of languages.
. . . Combinations based on sequentiality may be called syntagmas. . .
. In its place in a syntagma, any unit acquires its value simply in opposition
to what precedes, or to what follows, or both.“ [Saussure 170-171-.
EJ: We will call these combinations
„Outside the context of discourse, words having something
in common are associated together in the memory. In this way they form
groups, the members of which may be related in various ways“
EJ: We will call this the paradigmatic
relation, and the structures of groups, paradigms. Following Roman Jacobsen,
the syntagm will represent the axis of combination; the paradigm, the axis
Values always involve:
Example The Value of $5.00 can be measured in two
 $5.00 and how much ice cream I could
 How many German Marks I would get for
|Earl ’s note: „Five dollars“
is a form rather than substance in some ways. If I have „five dollars“
that could mean five hundred pennies; forty quarters; a five dollar bill;
one hundred pennies, two dollar bills, and twenty dimes, or any number
of other combinations. The actual currency is the substance but the value
is the form.
|In linguistics, the value focuses on the status of a
sign within the system, its relation to all the other signs in that system.
|A the value of a phoneme is its difference from other
phonemes in the system.
but their values are different:
house, dwelling, hovel, palace, shack, chalet, mansion,
|In comparing signs across languages, the difference in
values becomes clear too:
French „mouton“ and English „sheep“ have the same meaning
The French word, „mouton“ means both the animal and the
|Grammatical concepts also differ in value across
languages. For example, the English plural and the Sanskrit have different
values because while English grammatical number is divided between singular
and plural, Sanskrit has a mandatory distinction among singular,
dual, and plural. English distinguishes between „one“ and „more than one“;
Sanskrit distinguishes „one“, „two,“ and „more than two“.
|Socio-familial concepts frequently have language-specific
values. Consider the English word for „sibling“ and the way the concept
is distributed in Japanese.
The is only one axis of distinction made in English: the
Status in relation to speaker
VERBS OF MOTION: ENGLISH / RUSSIAN
In English, the basic verbs of motion distinguish between
Russian verbs of motion, first of all distinguish
among the types of surfaces across or within which one travels, and pays
no attention to direction relative to speaker or listener.
Verbs mean: travel on land (walk, crawl, climb, hope),
travel in water (swim, paddle, float, sail), travel in air (fly, leap,
sail), travel in vehicle.
Verbs of transporting objects/people: distinguish
among carrying on foot, carrying in a vehicle, leading on foot.
These verbal core-meanings are further complicated by
the Russian Verbal aspect system. Russian verbs distinguish between an
action that’s on-going, incomplete, or repetitive on the hand, and an action
that is complete or perfected on the other.
When you map the verbs mentioned above onto the aspectual
grid, you get complex signs such as:
„I habitually go on foot carrying it there.“
or „I will go roundtrip in a vehicle once, carrying nothing.“
Ferdinand de Saussure
Texts by Saussure
Godel, Robert (ed.) (1957) Les Sources Manuscrites du
Cours de Linguistique Générale de F. de Saussure, Geneva
and Paris: Droz and Minard.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1957) ‚Cours de Linguistique
— (1961 [1894-1911]) ‚Lettres de Ferdinand de Saussure
— (1967) Cours de Linguistique Générale
— (1971 ) Cours de Linguistique Générale
— (1959) Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade
— (1983) Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris,
de Saussure, Ferdinand. (1959). Course de Linguistique
|Texts on Saussure|
Culler, Jonathan. (1976) Saussure, London: Fontana.
Harris, Roy. (1987) Reading Saussure, London: Duckworth.
Holdcroft, David. (1991) Saussure. Signs, systems,
Kinser, Samuel. Saussureís Anagrams: Ideological Work.
Starobinski, Jean. Les Mots sur Les Mots. Les
Thibault, Paul J. (1996). Re-reading Saussure. The dynamics
Weber, Samuel. Saussure and the Apparition of Language:
|Internet Resources on Saussure|
|See Paul J. Thibault’s online course, „Saussure
and Beyond: Renewing Semiotic Foundations.“
|See our Catalogue
of Internet Resources for Semiotics.
Introduction to Charles
Study Guide Two