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E 341 (23)

Saussure, language, sign, signified, signifier

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E 341
Aparna Gollapudi

30 August Meaning is created out of structures For Saussure, what is the difference between ‘Language’ and ‘Speaking’? Individuals speak Language as a system exists before the speaker does Language rules are internalized Speaking is heterogeneous – you can say the same things in different ways Language is homogenous Language exists only between people People agree on it System individuals buy into Language is a process of signification: “Language is a system of signs that expresses ideas.” (77) Signification – process in which one thing stands in for another Language “exists only by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community.” Significance of the study of language to our view of culture, literature, society: everywhere around us there are systems of signs – symbolic rites, politeness formulas, etc. Language is thus a part of what Saussure terms Semiology – “A science that studies the life of signs within society.” Sign, Signified, Signifier Words are Signs: Names → Things (he also calls them Signs → Referents) But, Saussure says, that’s too simple. Words and the way they create meaning is a more complex process. (78) Linguistic sign is a double entity (78 – 79): Sound image + concept He renames them: sound image = signifier; concept = signified So: sign = signifier + signified The linguistic sign, Saussure says, has two primordial characteristics. Understanding these characteristics reveal how Language Functions, how it “means” Principle I: The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign Meanings given to linguist signs – i.e. words – are ARBITRARY, maintained by CONVENTION only. No NATURAL connection between sign and referent – i.e. word and meaning – or signifier (sound image) and signified (concept). Words are, in Saussure’s terms “unmotivated” signs. Principle II: The Linear Nature of the Signifier Words make sense in a linear progress of time (unlike visual signifiers that can be simultaneous and immediate). Language creates meaning only when words are presented in succession in ways that each word relates to each other. In this entire section (and such sections) Saussure is showing different aspects of one major characteristic of how words – and language – create meaning An important quality of how language creates meaning Meaning of words is always RELATIONAL. Individually words or signifiers do not have intrinsic meaning. Meaning emerges only in the context of the various relations that words have – with each other, with the system of grammar, and with past meanings etc. Different ways in which this relationality work
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