Saussure's Definition of Language

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Most studies of language take a diachronic approach that emphasised, for instance, a "cause/effect" or sequential view of meaning and communication. Saussure used a synchronic method of study that looked at simultaneous relationships. One result of the synchronic method was Saussure's insistence on the double nature of language and linguistic elements. Saussure insisted on the systematic nature of language; "Language is a structure, a functioning whole in which the different parts are determined by one another" (Course in General Linguistics p. 9). The combined elements of parole and langue form language. Language states Saussure, manifests itself as speech (parole), the actual performance of speakers when they speak or write, also language (langue), which represents the knowledge or competence that all speakers possess of their language (Course in General Linguistics p. 8- 9). Speech says Saussure, "has both an individual and social side … always implies both establish system and evolution" (Course in General Linguistics p. 8). All changes in language occur in parole, in the actual speech act. But only some of these changes become institutionalised in langue. Saussure states that langue, should not be confused with human speech, it is a system or structure of speech codes. He argued that linguistic elements are relational, that it is viewpoint that creates the object of linguistic study. Because so much depends on viewpoint, the nature of the linguistic sign is necessarily arbitrary. Saussure followed that if we are able to recognise things through mental representations, then the brain also has to recognise words we hear via mental representations, in conjunction with distinguishing what the words mean via representations. From this, Saussure goes on to make the sign the unity of sound-image and concept. Thus like Aristotle he seems to think that there are mental facts (concepts). He does not believe however of the sound as a sign of those concepts, rather that...