Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ferdinand de Saussure's Language Concept

Ferdinand de Saussure was influenced by Emile Durkheim in his studies. Emile Durkheim is a sociologist. He defined social facts as “things”. The application of these ideas to language study is obvious. Language can be considered as “a thing” separate from our use of it as individuals because it is inherited entire from the other speakers who teach it to us and it is not our product.

Language is a social fact, since it is general throughout a community and exercises as constraint on the speakers. Language or social fact is also independent of historical development.

In Saussure’s book Cours de linguistique Generale (Course in General Linguistics) he set himself three goals:
(1) to make the synchronic study of language scientific
(2) to show that linguistic facts exist
(3) to establish the methods for identifying and dealing with linguistic facts.

In French there are three expressions referring to language that de Saussure used to call attention to distinct aspects of language that considered important, namely la parole, la langue, and le langage.

La parole (“speaking”) includes the following properties:
- act of speaking
- including individual constructions that are the consequence of a speaker’s choice
- acts of articulation that are equally matters of free choice
- la parole is individual manifestation/individual product
- la parole is active
- la parole is not social fact
- la parole can’t be studied since it is not homogeneous

La langue (rules/grammar) is described as follows:
- la langue is a deposit of signs which each individual has received from other speakers of the community and it is essentially a passive thing
- la langue is a set of conventions that we all receive, ready-made, from previous speakers of language.
- La langue is the set of passively acquired habits we have been taught by our speech community.
- La langue is a social fact which can be successfully studied when we consider the pattern behind individual utterances.

Le langage is the sum of la parole and the rules of language (la langue).

Language (la langue) is not and cannot be physical fact. It is a social fact, which canbe successfully studied when we consider the pattern behind individual utterances.

Since la langue is a “deposit of signs.” The “concrete and integral” object of linguistic science is linguistic sign. Linguistic sign in de Saussure’s view unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept (signifie/signified) and acoustic images (significant/signifier), a psychic entity with two sides. The definition is illustrated in the diagram.

Concept            signifie signified)                 THE LINGUISTIC
--------------    ---------                   =
acoustic image   significan(signifier)               SIGN

The object to be studied as minimally required data is the linguistic sign, which has two principal characteristics: it is arbitrary and linear. It is the latter property that is the basis for the distinction between associative and syntagmatic relation.

Associative and Syntagmatic Relation

Associative relations are any link in the chain of speech which will suggest other language units to us, because the units either resemble or differ from each other in form and meaning.

The word teaching, for example, could remind us of others that have a similar form, such as, walking, reading, and studying; other forms of teach such as teaches, teacher, taught; other words with similar meanings but different forms such as tutor, mentor; or words different in both form and meaning such as chalk, and blackboard.

Look at the illustration below:
teaching associates:
walking, reading, studying (similar form)
teaches, teacher, taught (other forms of teach)
tutor, mentor ( other words with similar meanings but different forms)
chalk, blackboard (words different in both form and meaning)

Associative relations are called relation in absentia, since the terms consist of an item present in the utterance and others that are not actually in the utterance. The term associative is also called paradigmatic by the Danish linguist Louis Hjemslev.

Syntagmatic Relations
Syntagmatic relations are the relation which hold between the successive members of a given chain. Syntagmatic relations are called relations in presentia, since the terms of relations are actually co-occurent items. For de Saussure a syntagme was any combination of descrete, successive units, of which there are at least two, with no limit on the possible number. The segments could be phonemes, syllables, morphemes, words, parts of words, phrases and so on. The examples of syntagmes in English expressions are reread, against all, human life, God is good, If the weather is nice, we’ll go out. For de Saussure the most obvious example of a syntagme is a sentence.

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