Ferdinand de Saussure


Course in General Linguistics [1915]





Place of Language in human Facts:  Semiology


a. Saussure himself points to the more general science of semiology

1) "Language is a system of signs that express ideas" (16)

2) "A science that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable; it would be a part of social psychology and consequently of general psychology; I shall call it semiology (from Greek s‘me™on  'sign')" [shmeion]

a) Subordinate status of linguistics

b) Whereas laws of semiology are applicable to linguistics, the contrary not necessarily the case


b.   Focus of most recent French structuralism




Linguistics of Language and Speaking (ch 4)


1. Dialectical Relation

a. "Language is necessary if speaking is to be intelligible and produce all its effects, but speaking is necessary for the establishment of language, and historically its actuality always comes first" (18)

1) "First come across the association in an act of speaking" (could be writing)

2) "Speaking is what causes language to evolve" (while this conclusion seems inevitable, Saussure has given speaking an accidental status) (19)


b. Saussure separates language and speaking

1) "Language and speaking are then interdependent; the former is both the instrument and the product of the latter.  But their interdependence does not prevent their being two absolutely distinct things"

2) Restriction of linguistics to language

a) "One might if necessary apply the term linguistics to each of these two disciplines and speak of a linguistics of speaking.  But that science must not be confused with linguistics proper, whose sole object is language. I shall deal only with linguistics of language." (19-20)

b) The linguistics of speaking has been pursued by phenomenology



Part One

Immutability and Mutability of the Sign (ch 2)


1.  Immutability

a. Fixity of signifier

1) "The signifier, though to all appearances freely chosen with respect to the idea that it represents, is fixed, not free, with respect to the linguistic community that uses it.  The masses have no voice in the matter, and the signifier chosen by language could be replaced by no other" (71)

2) "Stacked deck"

a) Say "Choose" but add "It must be this sign and no other"

b) "No individual, even if he willed it, could modify in any way at all the choice that has been made, and what is more, the community itself cannot control so much as a single word; it is bound to the existing language"


b. Language as "heritage of the preceding period"

1) Origin of speech not important

2) "The only real object of linguistics is the normal and regular life of an existing idiom"


c. Reasons for Immutability

1) The arbitrary nature of the sign

a) Precisely that which undercuts modification

b)    Arbitrary status eliminates rational relations subject to discussion

2) The multiplicity of signs necessary to form any language

3)  The over-complexity of the system

a) System ruled by logic

b) Only specialists would have competence to change it, and their efforts have failed

4)  Collective inertia toward innovation

a) Constant participation by all

b) "Of all social institutions, language is least amenable to initiative"


2. Mutability


a. Alteration through perpetuation

1) Only relative disregard for past

2) Principle of continuity has primacy over principle of change


b. Results in "a shift in the relationship between the signified and the signifier"