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Saussure's Signified/Signifier

Ferdinand de Saussure [masked]) is considered to be the founder of semiotics and structuralism, the theories in linguistics that all text is composed of signs. These signs are themselves composed of "signifiers" and "signifieds"- representations and the things which they represent.

Sounds pretty straightforward. But (spoiler alert!) this very intuitive analysis of language opened up many possibilities for 20th century philosophy. How better to understand the tangled web of meaning that language poses, than to read segments from his lectures?

Course in General Linguistics, his most famous work, was actually compiled by his students. We'll take Norton's advice and read the following sections, which can be found at the fabulous site Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/courseingenerall00saus

From the Introduction- Chapter III, the Object of Linguistics (last paragraph of p. 14 to p. 17)

From Part One, Chapter I. (p. 65-70)

From Part Two, Chapter IV. through Chapter V. (p[masked])


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  • A former member
    A former member

    P.S. For some value of 'something' -- perhaps just interpersonal. The word 'mysticism' provides context for my term pie-in-the-mind.

    April 17, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    A possible corrective to some of my own comments: With the mysticism of the heart something does come in from outside. But there can be pie-in-the-mind as much as pie-in-the-sky.

    April 15, 2014

  • justin s.

    This was a tough subject. I enjoyed the discussion. It seems that all the topics we look at will be better understood if we have a clearer idea of how language works - as mysterious as that seems. It's a bit like the history of philosophy, which began in metaphysics, and then ethics, and only later in questions of epistemology which underlay the earlier studies. Now 'linguistic relativism' (as I would call it) has brought everything into doubt, but hopefully not into despair.

    April 13, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm interested in the sense in which language is neither taught nor discovered. If you trace back to any earlier society we will find no contractual moment establishing the terms of language. Yet all people take themselves to know their meanings of words. There is no set rule to be taught. Nor can we recall any moment in which meaning was personally discovered. This should be cause for reflection, I think

    April 12, 2014

  • Chad B.

    Sorry I'm going to miss this one. Remember "the great I AM" = the verb substantive = the unification of substance and action from which all other rules of grammar derive (ala the Tetractys or Trinitarian hypostasis).

    1 · April 12, 2014

  • Chad B.

    I'm a little obsessed with the doodles on pg 65 and cannot figure out why they are there. However I can imagine the following improvement: every time a word is spelled out (i.e., "arbor") there is a footnote directing one to the bottom of the page to see a drawing. I feel like this is the properly academic way to write books (on general principle). Plus a sign which signifies signification then signifies a signified (win-win).

    April 10, 2014

    • justin s.

      Yes! Saussure does pretty well for a French academic, but then this is PrePostModern. :)

      1 · April 10, 2014

  • Dan

    Glad to see this posted! I've been wanting to read this book.

    1 · March 17, 2014

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