Starts with ferdinand de saussure, swiss linguist (1857-1913) Investigated the structures through which language works. Relational theory of language - the meaning of a word defined by difference by what it isn"t as well as what it is (e. g. , black and white) Introduces the idea of the sign consisting of signifier (word or symbol) + signified (its meaning) Relationship between signifier and signified is often arbitrary (as in cat ) But cat means different things to different people it has multiple signifieds, depending on the context. A sign with many meanings is an example of polysemy. For de saussure, meaning also made through systems of combining and selecting signs (or words) Syntagmatic (horizontal combinations) = how one puts words or signs together in a sentence e. g. , the cat sat on the mat or the mat sat on the cat . Paradigmatic (vertical selection) = which words or signs one chooses to put together.