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Ferdinand de Saussure
Contents:
  1. Studies in Culture and Education
  2. Navigation
  3. Who was Ferdinand de Saussure? in: Saussure and Sechehaye: Myth and Genius
  4. RELATED ARTICLES

It must also be said that Germanic studies to some extent played the same role as well.

There the prototype does not exist, but in the case of Germanic there are long historical periods that can be followed. The historical perspective that the Indo-Europeanists lacked, because they viewed everything on the same level, was indispensable for the Romance scholars. And the historical perspective revealed how the facts were connected. Thus it came about that the influence of Romance studies was very salutary. One of the great defects, from a scholarly point of view, which is common to philology and the comparative phase is a servile attachment to the letter, to the written language, or a failure to draw a clear distinction between what might pertain to the real spoken language and what to its graphic sign.

Hence, it comes about that the literary point of view is more or less confused with the linguistic point of view, and furthermore, more concretely, the written word is confused with the spoken word; two superimposed systems of signs which have nothing to do with each other, the written and the spoken, are conflated.

The linguistics which gradually developed in this way is a science for which we can take the definition given by Hatzfeld, Darmstetter and Thomas's Dictionary: 'the scientific study of languages' , which is satisfactory, but it is this word scientific that distinguishes it from all earlier studies. What does it take: 1 as its subject matter 2 as its object or task?

Studies in Culture and Education

It will Pay attention to any tongue, whether obscure or famous, and likewise to any period, giving no preference, for example, to what is called a classical period', but according equal interest to so-called decadent or archaic periods. Similarly, for any given period, it will refrain from selecting the most educated language, but will concern itself at the same time with popular forms more or less in contrast with the so-called educated or literary language, as well as the forms of the so-called educated or literary language. Thus linguistics deals with language of every period and in all the guises it assumes.

Necessarily, it should be pointed out, in order to have documentation for all periods, as far as possible, linguistics will constantly have to deal with the written language, and will often have to rely on the insights of philology in order to take its bearings among these written texts; but it will always distinguish between the written text and what lies underneath; treating the former as being only the envelope or external mode of presentation of its true object, which is solely the spoken language. Naturally this is possible only to a very limited extent and for very few languages.

In attempting to trace the history of a language, one will very soon find oneself obliged to trace the history of a language family. Before Latin, there is a period which Greek and Slavic share in common. So this involves the history of language families, as and when relevant. But in the second place 2 , and this is very different, it will be necessary to derive from this history of all the languages themselves laws of the greatest generality. Linguistics will have to recognise laws operating universally in language, and in a strictly rational manner, separating general phenomena from those restricted to one branch of languages or another.

There are more special tasks to add; concerning the relations between linguistics and various sciences. Some are related by reason of the information and data they borrow, while others, on the contrary, supply it and assist its work. It often happens that the respective domains of two sciences are not obvious on first inspection; in the very first place, what ought to be mentioned here are the relations between linguistics and psychology - which are often difficult to demarcate.

It is one of the aims of linguistics to define itself, to recognise what belongs within its domain. In those cases where it relies upon psychology, it will do so indirectly, remaining independent. Once linguistics is conceived in this way, i. As long as the activity of linguists was limited to comparing one language with another, this general utility cannot have been apparent to most of the general public, and indeed the study was so specialised that there was no real reason to suppose it of possible interest to a wider audience.

It is only since linguistics has become more aware of its object of study, i. It is by no means useless, for instance, to those who have to deal with texts. It is useful to the historian, among others, to be able to see the commonest forms of different phenomena, whether phonetic, morphological or other, and how language lives, carries on and changes over time.

More generally, it is evident that language plays such a considerable role in human societies, and is a factor of such importance both for the individual human being and human society, that we cannot suppose that the study of such a substantial part of human nature should remain simply and solely the business of a few specialists; everyone, it would seem, is called upon to form as correct an idea as possible of what this particular aspect of human behaviour amounts to in general.

Navigation

All the more so inasmuch as really rational, acceptable ideas about it, the conception that linguistics has eventually reached, by no means coincides with what at first sight seems to be the case. There is no sphere in which more fantastic and absurd ideas have arisen than in the study of languages. Language is an object which gives rise to all kinds of mirage. Most interesting of all, from a psychological point of view, are the errors language produces. Everyone, left to his own devices, forms an idea about what goes on in language which is very far from the truth.

Thus it is equally legitimate in that respect for linguistics today to Claim to be able to put many ideas right, to throw light on areas where the general run of scholars would be very liable to go wrong and make very serious mistakes.

Who was Ferdinand de Saussure? in: Saussure and Sechehaye: Myth and Genius

I have left on one side the question of languages and language in order to discuss the object of linguistics and its possible utility. Without for the moment distinguishing terminologically between languages and language, where do we find the linguistic phenomenon in its concrete, complete, integral form? That is: where do we find the object we have to confront? With all its characteristics as yet contained within it and unanalysed?

This is a difficulty which does not arise in many other disciplines - not having your subject matter there in front of you. It would be a mistake to believe that this integral, complete object can be grasped by picking out whatever is most general. The operation of generalisation presupposes that we have already investigated the object under scrutiny in such a way as to be able to pronounce upon what its general features are.

What is general in language will not be what we are looking for; that is, the object immediately given. But nor must we focus on what is only part of it. Thus, it is clear that the vocal apparatus has an importance which may monopolise our attention, and when we have studied this articulatory aspect of languages we shall soon realise that there is a corresponding acoustic aspect. But even that does not go beyond purely material considerations.

It does not take us as far as the word, the combination of the idea and the articulatory product; but if we take the combination of the idea and the vocal sign, we must ask if this is to be studied in the individual or in a society, a corporate body: we still seem to be left with something which is incomplete. Proceeding thus, we see that in catching hold of the language by one end at random we are far from being able to grasp the whole phenomenon.

It may seem, after approaching our study from several angles simultaneously, that there is no homogeneous entity which is the language, but only a conglomerate of composite items articulation of a sound, idea connected to it which must be studied piecemeal and cannot be studied as an integral object.

In every individual there is a faculty which can be called the faculty of articulated language. This faculty is available to us in the first instance in the form of organs, and then by the operations we can perform with those organs. But it is only a faculty, and it would be a material impossibility to utilise it in the absence of something else - a language - which is given to the individual from outside: it is necessary that the individual should be provided with this facility - with what we call a language - by the combined effort of his fellows, here we see, incidentally, perhaps the most accurate way of drawing a distinction between language and languages.

RELATED ARTICLES

A language is necessarily social: language is not especially so. The latter can be defined at the level of the individual. It is an abstract thing and requires the human being for its realisation. This faculty which exists in individuals might perhaps be compared to others: man has the faculty of song, for example; perhaps no one would invent a tune unless the community gave a lead. A language presupposes that all the individual users possess the organs.

By distinguishing between the language and the faculty of language, we distinguish 1 what is social from what is individual, 2 what is essential from what is more or less accidental. As a matter of fact, we shall see later on that it is the combination of the idea with a vocal sign which suffices to constitute the whole language. Sound production - that is what falls within the domain of the faculty of the individual and is the individual's responsibility. But it is comparable to the performance of a musical masterpiece on an instrument; many are capable of playing the piece of music, but it is entirely independent of these various performances.

The acoustic image linked to an idea - that is what is essential to the language. It is in the phonetic execution that all the accidental things occur; for inaccurate repetition of what was given is at the root of that immense class of facts, phonetic changes, which are a host of accidents. You can conjure up a very precise idea of this product - and thus set the language, so to speak, materially in front of you - by focussing on what is potentially in the brains of a set of individuals belonging to one and the same community even when they are asleep; we can say that in each of these heads is the whole product that we call the language.

www.cheesetimes.co.uk/images/map7.php We can say that the object to be studied is the hoard deposited in the brain of each one of us; doubtless this hoard, in any individual case, will never turn Out to be absolutely complete. We can say that language always works through a language', without that, it does not exist. The language, in turn, is quite independent of the individual; it cannot be a creation of the individual-, it is essentially social; it presupposes the collectivity.

Finally, its only essential feature is the combination of sound and acoustic image with an idea. The acoustic image is the impression that remains with us the latent impression in the brain D. There is no need to conceive it the language as necessarily spoken all the time. Let us come down to details; let us consider the language as a social product. Among social products, it is natural to ask whether there is any other which offers a parallel.

The American linguist Whitney who, about , became very influential through his book The principles and the life of language, caused astonishment by comparing languages to social Institutions, saying that they fell in general into the great class of social institutions. In this, he was on the right track-, his ideas are in agreement with mine. They discovered it was more convenient; but if they had used visual signs, or hand signals, the language would remain in essence exactly the same: nothing would have changed.

Which comes down to what I was saying: the only change would be the replacement of the acoustic images I mentioned by visual images. Whitney wanted to eradicate the idea that in the case of a language we are dealing with a natural faculty; in fact, social institutions stand opposed to natural institutions.

John E. Joseph

Nevertheless, you cannot find any social institution that can be set on a par with a language and is comparable to it. There are very many differences. The very special place that a language occupies among institutions is undeniable, but there is much more to be said-, a comparison would tend rather to bring out the differences. In a general way, institutions such as legal institutions, or for instance a set ,of rituals, or a ceremony established once and for all, have many characteristics which make them like languages, and the changes they undergo over time a.

But there are enormous differences. Before proceeding further, another idea must be introduced: that of semiological facts in societies. Let us go back to the language considered as a product of society at work: it is a set of signs fixed by agreement between the members of that society; these signs evoke ideas, but in that respect it's rather like rituals, for instance.

Nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not directly evoke things. In all societies we find this phenomenon: that for various purposes systems of signs are established that directly evoke the ideas one wishes; it is obvious that a language is one such system, and that it is the most important of them all; but it is not the only one, and consequently we cannot leave the others out of account.

A language must thus be classed among semiological institutions; for example, ships' signals visual signs , army bugle calls, the sign language of the deaf-and-dumb, etc. Writing is likewise a vast system of signs.