Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ferdinand De Saussure

Ferdinand De Saussure: Applied/Linguists

Ferdinand De Saussure 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. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics.

Saussure choose the term "sign" over "symbol" because the latter implies motivation. For Saussure, the sign is arbitrary. Virtually all signs, Saussure maintains, have only arbitrarily ascribed meanings. Since Saussure, this notion has been taken as axiomatic in Western linguistics and philosophy

most modern linguists and philosophers of language consider his ideas outdated.

A common mistake is to construe the signifier and the sign as the same thing. In my view, another common mistake, perhaps related to the first, is to speak of a signifier without a signified or a sign, or to speak of a signified without a signifer or a sign. Used in reference to Saussure's original formulations, both locutions are nonsensical. In language, a lone signifier would be an utterly meaningless sound or concatenation of sounds. But it is even more absurd to speak of a signified without signifier or sign: It would, I believe, have to be a sort of half thought, something never thought before, a thought that exists solely outside the domain of language, a fleeting, private, chaotic thought that makes no sense even to the thinker -- an unthought. Another mistake is to endow a sign with meaning outside the presence of other signs. Except as part of the whole system, signs do not and cannot exist.


  1. Beautifully written - I didn;t realise your name was Steve Hoenisch!