Ferdinand de Saussure


Ferdinand de Saussure

Full name Born Died Era Region School

Ferdinand de Saussure 26 November 1857 in Geneva, Switzerland. 22 February 1913 (aged 55) in Vufflens-le-Château, VD Switzerland. 19th-century philosophy Western Philosophy Structuralism, semiotics

Main interests Linguistics Notable ideas Signature Structuralism, semiology

Ferdinand de Saussure (French pronunciation: [fɛʁdinɑ̃ də sosyʁ]) (26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. Saussure is widely considered to be one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics,[1] [2] though modern linguists and philosophers of language all but universally consider his ideas outdated, inadequate, and misunderstood or deliberately distorted by literary theorists,[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] though some philosophers of language consider modern linguistics to be returning to more outdated methods of argumentative support in order to consider Saussure's ideas and those based on Saussure obscurantist or deliberately distorted.[15] Saussure's concepts receive little or no attention in modern linguistic textbooks.[16] Saussure's concepts—particularly semiotics—have nonetheless exterted a monumental impact throughout the humanities and social sciences.

Ferdinand Mongin de Saussure 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 14.[17] After a year of studying Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and a variety of courses at the University of Geneva, he commenced graduate work at the 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 Berlin, where he wrote a doctoral thesis on the genitive absolute in Sanskrit. He returned to Leipzig and was awarded his doctorate in 1880. Soon afterwards he relocated to Paris, where he would lecture on Gothic and Old High German, and occasionally on other subjects. He taught in Paris for 11 years before returning to Geneva in 1891. Saussure lectured on Sanskrit and 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, VD Switzerland.

Ferdinand de Saussure


Course in General Linguistics
Saussure's most influential work, Course in General Linguistics (Cours de linguistique générale), was published posthumously in 1916 by former students 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 rather 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, and possibly has a referent, though Saussure took this last question to lie beyond the linguist's purview. Saussure attempted at various times in the 1880s and 1890s to write a book on general linguistic matters. Some of his manuscripts, including an unfinished essay discovered in 1996, were published in Writings in General Linguistics, though most of the material in this book had already been published in Engler's critical edition of the Course in 1967 and 1974. (TUFA)

Laryngeal theory
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 these might actually be laryngeal consonants, leading to what is now known as the laryngeal theory. It has been argued that the problem Saussure encountered, of 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. Saussure's predictions about the existence of primate coefficients/laryngeals and their evolution proved a resounding success when the Hittite texts were discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later. Saussure's ideas had a major impact on the development of linguistic theory in the first half of the 20th century. 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 Saussurian thought in forming the central tenets of structural linguistics. Saussure posited that linguistic form is arbitrary, and therefore all languages function in a similar fashion. According to Saussure, a language is arbitrary because it is systematic in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Also, all languages have their own concepts and sound images (or signifieds and signifiers). Therefore, Saussure argues that languages have a relational conception of their elements: words and their meanings are defined by comparing and contrasting their meanings to one another. For instance, the sound images for and the conception of a book differ from the sound images for and the conception of a table. Languages are also arbitrary because of the nature of their linguistic elements; they are defined in terms of their function rather than in terms of their inherent qualities. Finally, language has a social nature in that it provides a larger context for analysis, determination, and realization of its structure. In Europe, the most important work in this period 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 following 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 hypotheses. Elsewhere, Louis Hjelmslev and the Copenhagen School proposed new interpretations of linguistics from structuralist theoretical frameworks.

Ferdinand de Saussure


Later developments
In America, Saussure's ideas informed the distributionalism of Leonard Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldian structuralism of those scholars guided by and furthering the practices established in Bloomfield's investigations and analyses of language, such as Eugene Nida, Bernard Bloch, George L. Trager, Rulon S. Wells III, Charles Hockett, and through Zellig Harris, the young Noam Chomsky. In addition to Chomsky's theory of Transformational grammar, other contemporary developments of structuralism include Kenneth Pike's theory of tagmemics, Sidney Lamb's theory of stratificational grammar, and Michael Silverstein's work. By the latter half of the 20th century, many of Saussure's ideas were under heavy criticism. His linguistic ideas are now generally considered important in their time, but outdated and superseded by developments such as cognitive linguistics. In 1972, Noam Chomsky described Saussurean linguists as an "impoverished and thoroughly inadequate conception of language,"[18] while in 1984, Marcus Mitchell declared that Saussurean linguistics were "fundamentally inadequate to process the full range of natural language [and furthermore were] held by no current researchers, to my knowledge."[19] In particular, linguistics have shifted from Saussure's focus on single words to analysis of sentences. Holland[20] notes that up to the 1950s Saussure enjoyed some legitimacy in linguistics, but with the cognitive revolution which began in 1957, Chomsky had: decisively refuted Saussure. [...] Much of Chomsky's work is not accepted by other linguists [and] I am not asking you to accept Chomsky's own linguistics, however. My point is simply that Chomsky's work rendered Saussure's linguistics, indeed much of post-Saussurean linguistics, obsolete. I am not claiming that Chomsky is right, only that Chomsky has proven that Saussure is wrong. Linguists who reject Chomsky claim to be going beyond Chomsky, or they cling to phrase-structure grammars. They are not turning back to Saussure.

Saussure is one of the founding fathers of semiotics. His concept of the sign/signifier/signified/referent forms the core of the field.

Influence outside linguistics
The principles and methods employed by structuralism were soon adopted by scholars and literary thinkers, such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, and implemented in their areas of study (literary studies/philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology respectively). However, their expansive interpretations of Saussure's theories, which contained ambiguities to begin with, and their application of those theories to non-linguistic fields of study such as sociology or anthropology, led to theoretical difficulties and proclamations of the end of structuralism in those disciplines. Saussure is the subject of The Magnetic Fields’ song "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure" on their 1999 album 69 Love Songs.

• "A sign is the basic unit of language (a given language at a given time). Every language is a complete system of signs. Parole (the speech of an individual) is an external manifestation of language." • "A linguistic system is a series of differences of sounds combined with a series of differences of ideas." • "The connection between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary." • "In language there are only differences, and no positive terms"

Ferdinand de Saussure


• Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2002) Écrits de linguistique générale (edition prepared by Simon Bouquet and Rudolf Engler), Paris: Gallimard. ISBN 2-07-076116-9. English translation: Writings in General Linguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2006) ISBN 0-19-926144-X. • 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). • (1878) Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européenes (Memoir on the Primitive System of Vowels in Indo-European Languages), Leipzig: Teubner. (online version [21] in Gallica Program, Bibliothèque nationale de France). • (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, Language and Communication series, volume. 12, trans. and ed. E. Komatsu and R. Harris, Oxford: Pergamon.

[1] Justin Wintle, Makers of modern culture, Routledge, 2002, p. 467. [2] David Lodge, Nigel Wood, Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, Pearson Education, 2008, p. 42. [3] "Saussure, considered the most important linguist of the century in Europe until the 1950s, hardly plays a role in current theoretical thinking about language." 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. [4] Bredin, H. (1984) Sign and Value in Saussure. Philosophy, Vol. 59, No. 227 (Jan., 1984), pp. 67-77). [5] Tallis, Raymond. Not Saussure: A Critique of Post-Saussurean Literary Theory, Macmillan Press 1988, 2nd ed. 1995. [6] Tallis, Raymond. Theorrhoea and After, Macmillan, 1998 [7] Evans, Dylan. (2005) "From Lacan to Darwin", in The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, eds. Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005, pp.38-55. [8] According to cognitive linguist Mark Turner, many of Saussure's concepts were "wrong on a grand scale." Turner, Mark. 1987. Death is the Mother of Beauty: Mind, Metaphor, Criticism. University of Chicago Press, p. 6. [9] "Saussure's views are not held, so far as I know, by modern linguists, only by literary critics, Lacanians, and the occasional philosopher." Holland, Norman N. (1992) The Critical I, Columbia University Press, ISBN ISBN 0-231-07650-9, p. 140." [10] Searle, John R. "Word Turned Upside Down." (http:/ / free--expression. blogspot. com/ 2007/ 10/ john-searle-on-derrida. html) New York Review of Books, Volume 30, Number 16· October 27, 1983. [11] Peregrin, Jaroslav. (1995) "Structuralist Linguistics and Formal Semantics" in E. Hajicovâ et al. (eds), Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague, vol. 2, Benjamins: Amsterdam, pp. 85-97. [12] Graham, Joseph F and Richard Macksey (1992). Onomatopoetics: Theory of Language and Literature. MLN, Vol. 107, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec., 1992), pp. 1098-1101. [13] Fabb, Nigel. (1988) Saussure and literary theory: from the perspective of linguistics. Critical Quarterly, Volume 30, Issue 2, pages 58–72, June 1988. [14] Patai, Daphne and Wilfrido Corral (eds). Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent, Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231134170. [15] Derrida, Jacques, "La différance", in Marges: de la Philosophie, pp.3-29, Les éditions de minuit (Paris: 1972), ISBN 2707300535. [16] Saussure receives mention only as a founder of modern linguistics in the following contemporary linguistic textbooks: • Fromkin, Victoria. (2000) Linguistics: an introduction to linguistic theory. Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 9780631197119. Saussure is not mentioned at all in the following textbooks:

Ferdinand de Saussure
Akmajian, Adrian. (2001) Linguistics: an introduction to language and communication. MIT Press, ISBN 9780262511230. Radford, Andrew, Martin Atkinson, and David Britain. (1999) Linguistics: an introduction. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521478540.) [17] 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). Москва 1972. [18] Chomsky, Noam. (1972) Language and Mind. Enlarged Ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p. 20 [19] Marcus, Mitchell, (1984) "Some Inadequate Theories of Human Language Processing." Talking Minds: The Study of Language in Cognitive Science. Eds. Thomas G. Bever, John M. Carroll, and Lance A. Miller. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1984. 253-77. [20] Holland, 1992, pp. 132 & 140. [21] http:/ / gallica2. bnf. fr/ ark:/ 12148/ bpt6k729200 • •


• 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. • Lyons, J. (1968). An Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. Cambridge University Press. • Sanders, C., ed.(2004). The Cambridge Companion to Saussure. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80486-8. • Wittmann, Henri (1974). "New tools for the study of Saussure's contribution to linguistic thought." Historiographia Linguistica 1.255-64. (http://homepage.mac.com/noula/ling/1974a-saussure.pdf)

External links
• Works by or about Ferdinand de Saussure (http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n79-43763) in libraries (WorldCat catalog) • The poet who could smell vowels (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/ article2869724.ece): an article in The Times Literary Supplement by John E. Joseph, November 14, 2007 • Original texts and resources (http://www.revue-texto.net/Saussure/Saussure.html), published by Texto, ISSN 1773-0120 (French). • Hearing Heidegger and Saussure (http://www.egwald.ca/ubcstudent/theory/heidegger.php) by Elmer G. Wiens.

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