Meaning is created out of structures
For Saussure, what is the difference between ‘Language’ and ‘Speaking’?
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
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
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