Ferdinand de Saussure

Ferdinand de Saussure (/soʊˈsjʊər/;[3] French: [fɛʁdinɑ̃ də sosyʁ]; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss linguist and semiotician. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiology in the 20th century.[4][5] He is widely considered one of the founders of 20th-century linguistics[6][7][8][9] and one of two major founders (together with Charles Sanders Peirce) of semiotics/semiology.[10]

One of his translators, Roy Harris, summarized Saussure's contribution to linguistics and the study of "the whole range of human sciences. It is particularly marked in linguistics, philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology."[11] Although they have undergone extension and critique over time, the dimensions of organization introduced by Saussure continue to inform contemporary approaches to the phenomenon of language. Prague school linguist Jan Mukařovský writes that Saussure's "discovery of the internal structure of the linguistic sign differentiated the sign both from mere acoustic 'things'... and from mental processes", and that in this development "new roads were thereby opened not only for linguistics, but also, in the future, for the theory of literature".[12] Ruqaiya Hasan argues that "the impact of Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign has been such that modern linguists and their theories have since been positioned by reference to him: they are known as pre-Saussurean, Saussurean, anti-Saussurean, post-Saussurean, or non-Saussure".[13]

Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure by Jullien
Born26 November 1857
Died22 February 1913 (aged 55)
Alma materUniversity of Geneva
Leipzig University (PhD, 1880)
University of Berlin
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolStructuralism, linguistic turn,[1] semiotics
University of Geneva
Main interests
Notable ideas
Structural linguistics
Langue and parole
Signified and signifier
Synchrony and diachrony
Linguistic sign
Semiotic arbitrariness
Laryngeal theory
Ferdinand de Saussure signature


He 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 fourteen.[14] In the autumn of 1870, he began attending the Institution Martine (previously the Institution Lecoultre until 1969), in Geneva. There he lived with the family of a classmate, Elie David.[15] Graduating at the top of class, Saussure expected to continue his studies at the Gymnase de Genève, but his father decided he was not mature enough at fourteen and a half, and sent him to the Collège de Genève instead. Saussure was not pleased, as he complained: "I entered the Collège de Genève, to waste a year there as completely as a year can be wasted."[16]

After a year of studying Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit and taking 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 the University of Berlin under the Privatdozenten Heinrich Zimmer, with whom he studied Celtic, and Hermann Oldenberg with whom he continued his studies of Sanskrit.[17] He returned to Leipzig to defend his doctoral dissertation De l'emploi du génitif absolu en Sanscrit, and was awarded his doctorate in February 1880. Soon, he relocated to the University of Paris, where he lectured on Sanskrit, Gothic and Old High German and occasionally other subjects.

Ferdinand de Saussure is one of the world's most quoted linguists, which is remarkable as he himself hardly published anything during his lifetime. Even his few scientific articles are not unproblematic. Thus, for example, his publication on Lithuanian phonetics[18] is grosso modo taken from studies by the Lithuanian researcher Friedrich Kurschat, with whom Saussure traveled through Lithuania in August 1880 for two weeks and whose (German) books Saussure had read.[19] Saussure, who had studied some basic grammar of Lithuanian in Leipzig for one semester but was unable to speak the language, was thus dependent on Kurschat. It is also questionable to what extent the Cours itself can be traced back to Saussure (alone). Studies have shown that at least the current version and its content are more likely to have the so-called editors Charles Bally and Albert Sèchehaye as their source than Saussure himself.[20]

He taught at the École pratique des hautes études for eleven years during which he was named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor).[21] When offered a professorship in Geneva in 1892, he returned to Switzerland. 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, Vaud, Switzerland. His brothers were the linguist and Esperantist René de Saussure, and scholar of ancient Chinese astronomy, Léopold de Saussure. In turn, his son was the psychoanalyst Raymond de Saussure.

Saussure attempted, at various times in the 1880s and 1890s, to write a book on general linguistic matters. His lectures about important principles of language description in Geneva between 1907 and 1911 were collected and published by his pupils posthumously in the famous Cours de linguistique générale in 1916. Some of his manuscripts, including an unfinished essay discovered in 1996, were published in Writings in General Linguistics, but most of the material in it had already been published in Engler's critical edition of the Course, in 1967 and 1974. (TUFA)

Work and influence

Saussure's theoretical reconstructions of the Proto-Indo-European language vocalic system and particularly his theory of laryngeals, otherwise unattested at the time, bore fruit and found confirmation after the decipherment of Hittite in the work of later generations of linguists such as Émile Benveniste and Walter Couvreur, who both drew direct inspiration from their reading of the 1878 Mémoire.[22]

Saussure had a major impact on the development of linguistic theory in the first half of the 20th century. His 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 Saussure's thought in forming the central tenets of structural linguistics. According to him, linguistic entities are parts of a system and are defined by their relations to one another within said system.[23] The thinker used the game of chess for his analogy, citing that the game is not defined by the physical attributes of the chess pieces but the relation of each piece to the other pieces.[23]

Saussure's status in contemporary theoretical linguistics, however, is much diminished, with many key positions now dated or subject to challenge, but post-structuralist 21st-century reception remains more open to Saussure's influence.[24] His main contribution to structuralism was his theory of a two-tiered reality about language. The first is the langue, the abstract and invisible layer, while the second, the parole, refers to the actual speech that we hear in real life.[25] This framework was later adopted by Claude Levi-Strauss, who used the two-tiered model to determine the reality of myths. His idea was that all myths have an underlying pattern, which form the structure that makes them myths.[25] These established the structuralist framework to literary criticism.

In Europe, the most important work in that period of influence 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 from 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.

In America, Saussure's ideas informed the distributionalism of Leonard Bloomfield[26] and the post-Bloomfieldian structuralism of such scholars 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 included Kenneth Pike's theory of tagmemics, Sidney Lamb's theory of stratificational grammar, and Michael Silverstein's work. Systemic functional linguistics is a theory considered to be based firmly on the Saussurean principles of the sign, albeit with some modifications. Ruqaiya Hasan describes systemic functional linguistics as a 'post-Saussurean' linguistic theory.[13] Michael Halliday argues:

Saussure took the sign as the organizing concept for linguistic structure, using it to express the conventional nature of language in the phrase "l'arbitraire du signe". This has the effect of highlighting what is, in fact, the one point of arbitrariness in the system, namely the phonological shape of words, and hence allows the non-arbitrariness of the rest to emerge with greater clarity. An example of something that is distinctly non-arbitrary is the way different kinds of meaning in language are expressed by different kinds of grammatical structure, as appears when linguistic structure is interpreted in functional terms [27]

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.[28] 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 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. Though the sign may also have a referent, Saussure took that to lie beyond the linguist's purview.

Throughout the book, he stated that a linguist can develop a diachronic analysis of a text or theory of language but must learn just as much or more about the language/text as it exists at any moment in time (i.e. "synchronically"): "Language is a system of signs that expresses ideas". A science that studies the life of signs within society and is a part of social and general psychology. Saussure believed that semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign, he called it semiology.

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 they might actually be laryngeal consonants, leading to what is now known as the laryngeal theory. It has been argued that the problem that Saussure encountered, 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. His predictions about the existence of primate coefficients/laryngeals and their evolution proved a success when Hittite texts were discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later.

Later critics

The closing sentence of Saussure's Course in General Linguistics has been challenged in many academic disciplines and subdisciplines with its contention that "linguistics has as its unique and true object the language envisioned in itself and for itself".[29] By the latter half of the 20th century, many of Saussure's ideas were under heavy criticism.

Saussure's linguistic ideas are still considered important for their time but have since suffered considerably under rhetorical developments aimed at showing how linguistics had changed or was changing with the times. As a consequence, Saussure's ideas are now often presented by professional linguists as outdated and as superseded by developments such as cognitive linguistics and generative grammar or have been so modified in their basic tenets as to make their use in their original formulations difficult without risking distortion, as in systemic linguistics. That development is occasionally overstated, however; Jan Koster states, "Saussure, considered the most important linguist of the century in Europe until the 1950s, hardly plays a role in current theoretical thinking about language,"[30] Over-reactions can also be seen in comments of the cognitive linguist Mark Turner[31] who reports that many of Saussure's concepts were "wrong on a grand scale". It is necessary to be rather more finely nuanced in the positions attributed to Saussure and in their longterm influence on the development of linguistic theorizing in all schools; for a more recent rereading of Saussure with respect to such issues, see Paul Thibault.[32] Just as many principles of structural linguistics are still pursued, modified and adapted in current practice and according to what has been learnt since about the embodied functioning of brain and the role of language within this, basic tenets begun with Saussure still can be found operating behind the scenes today.


Saussure is one of the founding fathers of semiotics. His term for the field was "semiology." Instead of focusing his theory on the origins of language and its historical aspects, Saussure concentrated on the patterns and functions of language itself. He believed that the relationship that exists between the signifier and the signified is purely arbitrary and analytical. His "sign/signifier/signified/referent" scheme forms the core of the field. Equally crucial but often overlooked or misapplied is the dimension of the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes of linguistic description.

Some linguists have pointed out to the fact that Saussure did not 'invent' semiotics but built upon Neoplatonist/Augustinian knowledge from the Middle Ages, particularly in regard to the writings of Augustine of Hippo: "as for the constitution of Saussurian semiotic theory, the importance of the Augustinian thought contribution (correlated to the Stoic one) has also been recognized. Saussure did not do anything but reform an ancient theory in Europe, according to the modern conceptual exigencies".[33]

Influence outside linguistics

The principles and methods employed by structuralism were later adapted in diverse fields by French intellectuals such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Such scholars took influence from Saussure's ideas in their own areas of study (literary studies/philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology, respectively).


  • (1878) Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (Memoir on the Primitive System of Vowels in Indo-European Languages), Leipzig: Teubner. (online version in Gallica Program, Bibliothèque nationale de France).
  • (1881) De l'emploi du génitif absolu en Sanscrit: Thèse pour le doctorat présentée à la Faculté de Philosophie de l'Université de Leipzig, (On the Use of the Genitive Absolute in Sanskrit: Doctoral dissertation presented to the Faculty of Philosophy of the Leipzig University) Geneva: Jules-Guillamaume Fick. (online version on the Internet Archive).
  • (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.
  • (2002) Écrits de linguistique générale, ISBN 978-2-07-076116-6.
    • 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).

See also


  1. ^ David Kreps, Bergson, Complexity and Creative Emergence, Springer, 2015, p. 92.
  2. ^ Mark Aronoff, Janie Rees-Miller (eds.), The Handbook of Linguistics, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 96. However, E. F. K. Koerner maintains that Saussure was not influenced by Durkheim (Ferdinand de Saussure: Origin and Development of His Linguistic Thought in Western Studies of Language. A contribution to the history and theory of linguistics, Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn [Oxford & Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press], 1973, pp. 45–61.)
  3. ^ "Saussure, Ferdinand de". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Robins, R. H. 1979. A Short History of Linguistics, 2nd Edition. Longman Linguistics Library. London and New York. p. 201: Robins writes Saussure's statement of "the structural approach to language underlies virtually the whole of modern linguistics".
  5. ^ Harris, R. and T. J. Taylor. 1989. Landmarks in Linguistic Thought: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. 2nd Edition. Chapter 16.
  6. ^ Justin Wintle, Makers of modern culture, Routledge, 2002, p. 467.
  7. ^ David Lodge, Nigel Wood, Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, Pearson Education, 2008, p. 42.
  8. ^ Thomas, Margaret. 2011. Fifty Key Thinkers on Language and Linguistics. Routledge: London and New York. p. 145 ff.
  9. ^ Chapman, S. and C. Routledge. 2005. Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. Edinburgh University Press. p.241 ff.
  10. ^ Winfried Nöth, Handbook of Semiotics, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1990.
  11. ^ Harris, R. 1988. Language, Saussure and Wittgenstein. Routledge. pix.
  12. ^ Mukarovsky, J. 1977. On Poetic Language. The Word and Verbal Art: Selected Essays by Jan Mukarovsky. Translated and edited by J. Burbank and Peter Steiner. p. 18.
  13. ^ a b Linguistic sign and the science of linguistics: the foundations of appliability. In Fang Yan & Jonathan Webster (eds.)Developing Systemic Functional Linguistics. Equinox 2013
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Joseph, John E. (2012-03-22). Saussure. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780199695652.
  16. ^ Joseph, John E. (2012-03-22). Saussure. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191636974.
  17. ^ Joseph (2012:253)
  18. ^ Ferdinand de Saussure, « Aaccentuation lituanienne ». In : Indogermanische Forschungen. Vol. 6, 157 – 166
  19. ^ Kurschat, Friedrich (1843, 1858). Beiträge zur Kunde der littauischen Sprache. Erstes Heft: Deutsch-littauische Phraseologie der Präpositionen. Königsberg 1843, Zweites Heft: Laut- und Tonlehre der littauischen Sprache. Königsberg 1849. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  20. ^ Jürgen Trabant, « Saussure contre le Cours ». In: Francois Rastier (Hrsg.): De l'essence double du langage et le renouveau du saussurisme. Limoges: Lambert-Lucas. ISBN 978-2-35935-160-6
  21. ^ Culler, p. 23
  22. ^ E. F. K. Koerner, 'The Place of Saussure's Memoire in the development of historical linguistics,' in Jacek Fisiak (ed.) Papers from the Sixth International Conference on Historical Linguistics,(Poznań, Poland, 1983) John Benjamins Publishing, 1985 pp.323-346, p.339.
  23. ^ a b Aronoff, Mark; Rees-Miller, Janie (2017). The Handbook of Linguistics. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. p. 108. ISBN 9781405186766.
  24. ^ Boris Gasparov. Beyond Pure Reason, pp1-8, 2010.
  25. ^ a b Fendler, Lynn (2010). Michel Foucault. London: Bloomsbury. p. 17. ISBN 9781472518811.
  26. ^ John Earl Joseph (2002). From Whitney to Chomsky: Essays in the History OfAmerican Linguisitcs. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 139. ISBN 978-90-272-4592-2.
  27. ^ Halliday, MAK. 1977. Ideas about Language. Reprinted in Volume 3 of MAK Halliday's Collected Works. Edited by J.J. Webster. London: Continuum. p113.
  28. ^ Macey, D. (2009). The Penguin dictionary of critical theory. Crane Library at the University of British Columbia.
  29. ^ Boris Gasparov. Beyond Pure Reason, pp59-60, 2010.
  30. ^ 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.PDF
  31. ^ Turner, Mark. 1987. Death is the Mother of Beauty: Mind, Metaphor, Criticism. University of Chicago Press, p. 6.
  32. ^ Thibault, Paul. 1996. Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life. London: Routledge.
  33. ^ Munteanu, E. 'On the Object-Language/Metalanguage Distinction in Saint Augustine's Works: De Dialectica and de Magistro', p. 65. In: Cram, D., Linn, A. R., & Nowak, E. (eds.). History of Linguistics 1996: Volume 2: From Classical to Contemporary Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Retrieved April 16, 2015 from https://books.google.com/books?id=IWtCAAAAQBAJ&pg.


  • 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.
  • Веселинов, Д. (2008). Българските студенти на Фердинанд дьо Сосюр (The bulgarian students of Ferdinand de Saussure). Университетско издателство "Св. Климент Охридски" (Sofia University Press).
  • Joseph, J. E. (2012). Saussure. Oxford University Press.
  • Sanders, Carol (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Saussure. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80486-8.
  • Wittmann, Henri (1974). "New tools for the study of Saussure's contribution to linguistic thought." Historiographia Linguistica 1.255-64. [1]

External links

69 Love Songs

69 Love Songs is the sixth studio album by American indie pop band the Magnetic Fields, released on September 7, 1999 by Merge Records. As its title indicates, 69 Love Songs is a three-volume concept album composed of 69 love songs, all written by Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt.

Charles Bally

Charles Bally (French: [bɑji]; 4 February 1865, Geneva – 10 April 1947, Geneva) was a Swiss linguist from the Geneva School. He lived from 1865 to 1947 and was, like Ferdinand de Saussure, from Switzerland. His parents were Jean Gabriel, a teacher, and Henriette, the owner of a cloth store. Bally was married three times: first to Valentine Leirens, followed by Irma Baptistine Doutre, who was sent into a mental institution in 1915, and finally with Alice Bellicot. In addition to his edition of de Saussure's lectures, Course in General Linguistics (co-edited by Albert Sechehaye), Charles Bally also played an important role in linguistics.

From 1883 to 1885 he studied classical languages and literature in Geneva. He continued his studies from 1886 to 1889 in Berlin where he was awarded a Ph.D. After his studies he worked as a private teacher for the royal family of Greece from 1889 to 1893. Bally returned to Geneva and taught at a business school from 1893 on and moved to the Progymnasium, a grammar school, from 1913 to 1939. He also worked as PD at the university from 1893 to 1913. From 1913 to 1939 he had a professorship for general linguistic and comparative Indo-European studies which he took over from Ferdinand de Saussure.

Besides his works about subjecthood in the French language he also wrote about the crisis in French language and language classes. He was active in interlinguistics, serving as a consultant to the research association that presented Interlingua in 1951. Today Charles Bally is regarded as the founding-father of linguistic theories of style and much honored for his theories of phraseology. In terms of modern stylistics he dealt with the expressive function of signs.

Code (semiotics)

In semiotics, a code is a set of conventions or sub-codes currently in use to communicate meaning. The most common is one's spoken language, but the term can also be used to refer to any narrative form: consider the color scheme of an image (e.g. red for danger), or the rules of a board game (e.g. the military signifiers in chess).

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) emphasised that signs only acquire meaning and value when they are interpreted in relation to each other. He believed that the relationship between the signifier and the signified was arbitrary. Hence, interpreting signs requires familiarity with the sets of conventions or codes currently in use to communicate meaning.

Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) elaborated the idea that the production and interpretation of texts depends on the existence of codes or conventions for communication. Since the meaning of a sign depends on the code within which it is situated, codes provide a framework within which signs make sense (see Semiosis).

Course in General Linguistics

Course in General Linguistics (French: Cours de linguistique générale) is a book compiled by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye from notes on lectures given by Ferdinand de Saussure at the University of Geneva between 1906 and 1911. It was published in 1916, after Saussure's death, and is generally regarded as the starting point of structural linguistics, an approach to linguistics that flourished in Europe and the United States in the first half of the 20th century. One of Saussure's translators, Roy Harris, summarized Saussure's contribution to linguistics and the study of language in the following way:

Language is no longer regarded as peripheral to our grasp of the world we live in, but as central to it. Words are not mere vocal labels or communicational adjuncts superimposed upon an already given order of things. They are collective products of social interaction, essential instruments through which human beings constitute and articulate their world. This typically twentieth-century view of language has profoundly influenced developments throughout the whole range of human sciences. It is particularly marked in linguistics, philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology".

Although Saussure was specifically interested in historical linguistics, the Course develops a theory of semiotics that is more generally applicable. A manuscript containing Saussure's original notes was found in 1996, and later published as Writings in General Linguistics.

French philosophy

French philosophy, here taken to mean philosophy in the French language, has been extremely diverse and has influenced Western philosophy as a whole for centuries, from the medieval scholasticism of Peter Abelard, through the founding of modern philosophy by René Descartes, to 20th century philosophy of science, existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and postmodernism.


In linguistics, logic, philosophy, and other fields, an intension is any property or quality connoted by a word, phrase, or another symbol. In the case of a word, the word's definition often implies an intension. For instance, the intensions of the word plant include properties including "being composed of cellulose", "alive", and "organism", among others. A comprehension is the collection of all such intensions.

The meaning of a word can be thought of as the bond between the idea the word means and the physical form of the word. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) contrasts three concepts:

the signifier – the "sound image" or the string of letters on a page that one recognizes as the form of a sign

the signified – the meaning, the concept or idea that a sign expresses or evokes

the referent – the actual thing or set of things a sign refers to. See Dyadic signs and Reference (semantics).Without intension of some sort, a word has no meaning. For instance, the terms rantans or brillig have no intension and hence no meaning. Such terms may be suggestive, but a term can be suggestive without being meaningful. For instance, ran tan is an archaic onomatopoeia for chaotic noise or din and may suggest to English speakers a din or meaningless noise, and brillig though made up by Lewis Carroll may be suggestive of 'brilliant' or 'frigid'. Such terms, it may be argued, are always intensional since they connote the property 'meaningless term', but this is only an apparent paradox and does not constitute a counterexample to the claim that without intension a word has no meaning. Part of its intension is that it has no extension. Intension is analogous to the signified in the Saussurean system, extension to the referent.

In philosophical arguments about dualism versus monism, it is noted that thoughts have intensionality and physical objects do not (S. E. Palmer, 1999), but rather have extension in space and time.

Langue and parole

Langue (French, meaning "language") and parole (meaning "speaking") are linguistic terms distinguished by Ferdinand de Saussure in his Course in General Linguistics. Langue encompasses the abstract, systematic rules and conventions of a signifying system; it is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users. Langue involves the principles of language, without which no meaningful utterance, "parole", would be possible. Parole refers to the concrete instances of the use of langue. This is the individual, personal phenomenon of language as a series of speech acts made by a linguistic subject. Saussure did not concern himself overly with parole; however, the structure of langue is revealed through the study of parole. The distinction is similar to that made about language by Wilhelm von Humboldt, between energeia (active doing) and ergon (the product of that doing), as well as the distinction between language and speech made by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay. Saussure drew an analogy to chess to explain the concept of langue and parole. He compared langue to the rules of chess—the norms for playing the game—and compared the moves that an individual chooses to make—the individual's preferences in playing the game—to the parole.

Modality (semiotics)

In semiotics, a modality is a particular way in which information is to be encoded for presentation to humans, i.e. to the type of sign and to the status of reality ascribed to or claimed by a sign, text, or genre. It is more closely associated with the semiotics of Charles Peirce (1839–1914) than Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) because meaning is conceived as an effect of a set of signs. In the Peircean model, a reference is made to an object when the sign (or representamen) is interpreted recursively by another sign (which becomes its interpretant), a conception of meaning that does in fact imply a classification of sign types.

Of Grammatology

Of Grammatology (French: De la grammatologie) is a 1967 book by French philosopher Jacques Derrida that has been called a foundational text for deconstructive criticism. The book discusses writers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Étienne Condillac, Louis Hjelmslev, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Roman Jakobson, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, André Leroi-Gourhan, and William Warburton. The English translation by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak was first published in 1976. A revised edition of the translation was published in 1997. A further revised edition was published in January 2016.

Pedersen's law

Pedersen's law, named after the Danish linguist Holger Pedersen, is a law of accentuation in Balto-Slavic languages which states that the stress was retracted from stressed medial syllables in paradigms with mobile accent.

It was originally proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure for Baltic to explain forms such as Lithuanian dùkterį, dùkteres (cp. Ancient Greek thugatéra, thugatéres), but was later generalized in 1933 to Balto-Slavic by Pedersen, who then assumed that accentual mobility spread from the consonant-stems to Balto-Slavic eh₂-stems and o-stems.

The term "Pedersen's law" is also applied to later Common Slavic developments in which the stress retraction to prefixes/proclitics can be traced in mobile paradigms, such as Russian ná vodu 'onto the water', né byl 'was not', pródal 'sold', and póvod 'rein'.

Proto-Indo-European *dʰugh₂tḗr 'daughter', with accusative singular *dʰugh₂térm̥ (Ancient Greek thugátēr, acc. sg. thugatéra) > Lithuanian duktė̃, acc. sg. dùkterį.

Proto-Indo-European *poh₂imń̥ ~ *poh₂imén 'shepherd' (Ancient Greek poimḗn, accusative singluar poiména) > Lithuanian piemuõ, acc. sg. píemenį.

Proto-Indo-European *gʰolHwéh₂ with Balto-Slavic semantics of 'head' > Lithuanian galvà (with accusative singular gálvą), Russian golová (acc. sg. gólovu), Chakavian glāvȁ (acc. sg. glȃvu).

Within the relative chronology of Balto-Slavic sound changes, this law was, in its first occurrence in the Balto-Slavic period, posterior to the loss of Proto-Indo-European accentual mobility (i.e. later than the advent of Balto-Slavic mobile paradigms, such as the above-mentioned Lithuanian duktė̃, as opposed to non-final stress in Ancient Greek etymons), so its application was originally limited to the inflection of polysyllabic consonant stems.

Later the retraction of stress spread by analogy to non-consonant stems in case-forms where Pedersen's law applied (commonly termed "barytonesis"). Thus we have accusative singular forms of Lithuanian ãvį 'sheep', sū́nų 'son', diẽvą 'god', žiẽmą 'winter'. Afterwards oxytonesis, Hirt's law, and Winter's law applied.

Roman Jakobson

Roman Osipovich Jakobson (Russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896 – July 18, 1982) was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.

A pioneer of structural linguistics, Jakobson was one of the most celebrated and influential linguists of the twentieth century. With Nikolai Trubetzkoy, he developed revolutionary new techniques for the analysis of linguistic sound systems, in effect founding the modern discipline of phonology. Jakobson went on to extend similar principles and techniques to the study of other aspects of language such as syntax, morphology and semantics. He made numerous contributions to Slavic linguistics, most notably two studies of Russian case and an analysis of the categories of the Russian verb. Drawing on insights from C. S. Peirce's semiotics, as well as from communication theory and cybernetics, he proposed methods for the investigation of poetry, music, the visual arts, and cinema.

Through his decisive influence on Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roland Barthes, among others, Jakobson became a pivotal figure in the adaptation of structural analysis to disciplines beyond linguistics, including philosophy, anthropology, and literary theory; his development of the approach pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure, known as "structuralism", became a major post-war intellectual movement in Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, though the influence of structuralism declined during the 1970s, Jakobson's work has continued to receive attention in linguistic anthropology, especially through the ethnography of communication developed by Dell Hymes and the semiotics of culture developed by Jakobson's former student Michael Silverstein. It should also be remembered that Jakobson's concept of underlying linguistic universals, particularly his celebrated theory of distinctive features, decisively influenced the early thinking of Noam Chomsky, who became the dominant figure in theoretical linguistics during the second half of the twentieth century.


Semiosis (from the Greek: σημείωσις, sēmeíōsis, a derivation of the verb σημειῶ, sēmeiô, "to mark") is any form of activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, including the production of meaning. Briefly – semiosis is sign process. The term was introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) to describe a process that interprets signs as referring to their objects, as described in his theory of sign relations, or semiotics. Other theories of sign processes are sometimes carried out under the heading of semiology, following on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913).

Semiotic literary criticism

Semiotic literary criticism, also called literary semiotics, is the approach to literary criticism informed by the theory of signs or semiotics. Semiotics, tied closely to the structuralism pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure, was extremely influential in the development of literary theory out of the formalist approaches of the early twentieth century.

Signified and signifier

The terms signified and signifier are most commonly related to semiotics, which is defined by Oxford Dictionaries Online as "the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation". Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, was one of the two founders of semiotics. His book, Course in General Linguistics, published in 1916, "is considered to be one of the most influential books published in the twentieth century". Saussure explained that a sign was not only a sound-image but also a concept. Thus he divided the sign into two components: the signifier (or "sound-image") and the signified (or "concept"). For Saussure, the signified and signifier were purely psychological; they were form rather than substance. Today, following Hjelmslev, the signifier is interpreted as the material form (something which can be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted) and the signified as the mental concept.

Social semiotics

Social semiotics (also social semantics) is a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain meaning-making as a social practice. Semiotics, as originally defined by Ferdinand de Saussure, is "the science of the life of signs in society". Social semiotics expands on Saussure's founding insights by exploring the implications of the fact that the "codes" of language and communication are formed by social processes. The crucial implication here is that meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change.

Social semiotics is thus the study of the social dimensions of meaning, and of the power of human processes of signification and interpretation (known as semiosis) in shaping individuals and societies. Social semiotics focuses on social meaning-making practices of all types, whether visual, verbal or aural in nature (Thibault, 1991). These different systems for meaning-making, or possible "channels" (e.g. speech, writing, images) are known as semiotic modes. Semiotic modes can include visual, verbal, written, gestural and musical resources for communication. They also include various "multimodal" ensembles of any of these modes (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001).

Social semiotics can include the study of how people design and interpret meanings, the study of texts, and the study of how semiotic systems are shaped by social interests and ideologies, and how they are adapted as society changes (Hodge and Kress, 1988). Structuralist semiotics in the tradition of Ferdinand de Saussure focused primarily on theorising semiotic systems or structures (termed langue by de Saussure, which change diachronically, i.e. over longer periods of time). In contrast, social semiotics tries to account for the variability of semiotic practices termed parole by Saussure. This altered focus shows how individual creativity, changing historical circumstances, and new social identities and projects can all change patterns of usage and design (Hodge and Kress, 1988). From a social semiotic perspective, rather than being fixed into unchanging "codes", signs are considered to be resources which people use and adapt (or "design") to make meaning. In these respects, social semiotics was influenced by, and shares many of the preoccupations of pragmatics and sociolinguistics and has much in common with cultural studies and critical discourse analysis.

The main task of social semiotics is to develop analytical and theoretical frameworks which can explain meaning-making in a social context (Thibault, 1991).

Structural linguistics

Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and is part of the overall approach of structuralism. Structural linguistics involves collecting a corpus of utterances and then attempting to classify all of the elements of the corpus at their different linguistic levels: the phonemes, morphemes, lexical categories, noun phrases, verb phrases, and sentence types.Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units. He is thus known as a father of modern linguistics for bringing about the shift from diachronic (historical) to synchronic (non-historical) analysis, as well as for introducing several basic dimensions of semiotic analysis that are still important today. Two of these are his key methods of syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis (or 'associations' as Saussure was still calling them), which define units syntactically and lexically, respectively, according to their contrast with the other units in the system.

Structural semantics

Logical positivism asserts that structural semantics is the study of relationships between the meanings of terms within a sentence, and how meaning can be composed from smaller elements. However, some critical theorists suggest that meaning is only divided into smaller structural units via its regulation in concrete social interactions; outside of these interactions, language may become meaningless.

Structural semantics is that branch that marked the modern linguistics movement started by Ferdinand de Saussure at the break of the 20th century in his posthumous discourse titled "Cours De Linguistique Generale" (A Course in General Linguistics). He posits that language is a system of inter-related units and structures and that every unit of language is related to the others within the same system. His position later became the bedding ground for other theories such as componential analysis and relational predicates. Structuralism is a very efficient aspect of Semantics, as it explains the concordance in the meaning of certain words and utterances. The concept of sense relations as a means of semantic interpretation is an offshoot of this theory as well.

Structuralism has revolutionized semantics to its present state, and it also aids to the correct understanding of other aspects of linguistics. The consequential fields of structuralism in linguistics are sense relations (both lexical and sentential) among others.


In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".Structuralism in Europe developed in the early 1900s, in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague, Moscow and Copenhagen schools of linguistics. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when structural linguistics were facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance, an array of scholars in the humanities borrowed Saussure's concepts for use in their respective fields of study. French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was arguably the first such scholar, sparking a widespread interest in structuralism.The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture. The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include Claude Lévi-Strauss, linguist Roman Jakobson, and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed to be the heir apparent to existentialism. However, by the late 1960s, many of structuralism's basic tenets came under attack from a new wave of predominantly French intellectuals such as the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, the philosopher Jacques Derrida, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the literary critic Roland Barthes. Though elements of their work necessarily relate to structuralism and are informed by it, these theorists have generally been referred to as post-structuralists. In the 1970s, structuralism was criticized for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Despite this, many of structuralism's proponents, such as Lacan, continue to assert an influence on continental philosophy and many of the fundamental assumptions of some of structuralism's post-structuralist critics are a continuation of structuralism.

Synchrony and diachrony

Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- "together" and χρόνος "time") considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- "through" and χρόνος "time") considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.The concepts were theorized by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, professor of general linguistics in Geneva from 1896 to 1911, and appeared in writing in his posthumous Course in General Linguistics published in 1916. In contrast with most of his predecessors, who focused on historical evolution of languages, Saussure emphasized the primacy of synchronic analysis of languages to understand their inner functioning, though never forgetting the importance of complementary diachrony. This dualistic opposition has been carried over into philosophy and sociology, for instance by Roland Barthes and Jean-Paul Sartre. Jacques Lacan also used it for psychoanalysis. Prior to de Saussure, many similar concepts were also developed independently by Polish linguists Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and Mikołaj Kruszewski of the Kazan school, who used the terms statics and dynamics of language.

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