On Saussure’s Linguistic Theory

Topics: Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, Sign Pages: 5 (1748 words) Published: June 2, 2011
1. Introduction
Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is one of the most famous and influencing linguists in the last century. His linguistic theory of regarding language as a synchronic and static sign system has turned the historical trend of linguistics and opened up a new pattern of modern linguistics, thus makes linguistics get great achievement in the 20th century. His work Course in General Linguistics (1916) that comes from the notes of his lessons collected by his students is one of classical works and is called “Bible” of linguistics. It has caused extensive response with its novel and unique thought, and Saussure is praised as “Father of Modern Linguistics” too. Saussure is an epoch-making giant in the development history of linguistics. His new theory, new principle, and new concept have become the foundation stone for the setting-up of the modern linguistic mansion. 2. Langue and parole

Saussure begins with the two basic expressive forms of language, namely langue and parole to examine the whole language phenomenon first. He thinks that speech activity is various, and its nature is complicated. It covers several fields of physics, physiology and psychology at the same time, and it still belongs to personal field and social field. We are not able to include it in any category of humane fact, because we do not know how to understand its entia (Saussure, 1980, p. 30). He points out that in separating langue from parole we are at the same time separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental (Saussure, 1980, p. 35). This is the first fork in Saussure’s thoughts of language: the speech activity is divided into the langue and parole. Saussure says that, “No doubt, these two targets are closely linked and both as the prerequisite. To let parole understood by people and make all its effects, there must be languages. But to establish language, there must be speech” (Saussure, 1980, p. 41). “The speech activity has personal aspects and social ones; one cannot exist without the other” (Saussure, 1980, p. 29). We can conclude from the statements above, that Saussure thinks langue and parole are inseparable, and closely linked. Without langue, parole loses the unified system, and cannot be understood, its result is unable to be verified. Without parole, langue will not be set up either. Therefore, it is easy to tell that, Saussure’s distinguishing of langue and parole is on the purpose of explaining the differences between the two, namely emphasizes the systematization of language. However, at the same time Saussure says that “Research of speech activity includes two parts, one is primary, which is social essentially, and does not take the personal speech as research target…Another is less important, that it takes the personal part of speech activity, namely parole, including articulation as research target…” (Saussure, 1980, p. 41). “It is an illusion to joint langue and parole together with the same view. The whole of the speech activity is unable to know, because it is not homogeneous” (Saussure, 1980, p. 42). This kind of seemingly self-contradictory view is really very apt to make people produce doubt and misunderstanding on the relation between langue and parole. The meaning of Saussure is that language is systematic and can be studied because of the disorder of inner link between langue and parole, but parole cannot be studied systematically, and therefore is cast out. And then people criticize Saussure for distinguishing langue and parole on the purpose of cutting off the connection between them and regarding them as irrelevant to each other. In fact, Saussure does not think there are impassable gaps between langue and parole. For Saussure, langue and parole are two unified aspects in speech activity. He also thinks that, “We must be clear: we believe linguistics…is a science that tries to converge two...
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Ferdinand de Saussure’s Theory of Structuralism Essay
  • Linguistics Essay
  • Linguistics Essay
  • Linguistics Essay
  • Essay on Linguistics
  • Essay on Linguistics
  • Linguistics Essay
  • Linguistics Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free