The relationship between signifier and signified is never

Signified and signifier - Wikipedia

the relationship between signifier and signified is never

executive side is missing, for execution is never carried out by the . relationship between 'signans' (signifier) and 'signatum' (signified) which is a shared. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is referred to as .. us to recognize different degrees of arbitrariness, although never to discard the notion . The relationship between the signifier and the signified in language is . he would never publish any reflections on the 'essence' of linguistics.

A sign must have both a signifier and a signified. You cannot have a totally meaningless signifier or a completely formless signified Saussure; Saussure A sign is a recognizable combination of a signifier with a particular signified. The same signifier the word 'open' could stand for a different signified and thus be a different sign if it were on a push-button inside a lift 'push to open door'.

Similarly, many signifiers could stand for the concept 'open' for instance, on top of a packing carton, a small outline of a box with an open flap for 'open this end' - again, with each unique pairing constituting a different sign. Nowadays, whilst the basic 'Saussurean' model is commonly adopted, it tends to be a more materialistic model than that of Saussure himself.

The signifier is now commonly interpreted as the material or physical form of the sign - it is something which can be seen, heard, touched, smelt or tasted. For Saussure, both the signifier and the signified were purely 'psychological' Saussure12,66 ; Saussure12, 15, Both were form rather than substance: A linguistic sign is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept and a sound pattern.

The sound pattern is not actually a sound; for a sound is something physical. A sound pattern is the hearer's psychological impression of a sound, as given to him by the evidence of his senses.

the relationship between signifier and signified is never

This sound pattern may be called a 'material' element only in that it is the representation of our sensory impressions.

The sound pattern may thus be distinguished from the other element associated with it in a linguistic sign. This other element is generally of a more abstract kind: Saussure66 ; Saussure66 Saussure was focusing on the linguistic sign such as a word and he 'phonocentrically' privileged the spoken wordreferring specifically to the image acoustique 'sound-image' or 'sound pattern'seeing writing as a separate, secondary, dependent but comparable sign system Saussure15,; Saussure15, 16, Within the 'separate' system of written signs, a signifier such as the written letter 't' signified a sound in the primary sign system of language and thus a written word would also signify a sound rather than a concept.

Thus for Saussure, writing relates to speech as signifier to signified. Most subsequent theorists who have adopted Saussure's model are content to refer to the form of linguistic signs as either spoken or written.

We will return later to the issue of the post-Saussurean 'rematerialization' of the sign. As for the signified, most commentators who adopt Saussure's model still treat this as a mental construct, although they often note that it may nevertheless refer indirectly to things in the world. Saussure's original model of the sign 'brackets the referent': His signified is not to be identified directly with a referent but is a concept in the mind - not a thing but the notion of a thing.

Some people may wonder why Saussure's model of the sign refers only to a concept and not to a thing. An observation from the philosopher Susanne Langer who was not referring to Saussure's theories may be useful here.

Note that like most contemporary commentators, Langer uses the term 'symbol' to refer to the linguistic sign a term which Saussure himself avoided: In talking about things we have conceptions of them, not the things themselves; and it is the conceptions, not the things, that symbols directly mean. Behaviour towards conceptions is what words normally evoke; this is the typical process of thinking'. She adds that 'If I say "Napoleon", you do not bow to the conqueror of Europe as though I had introduced him, but merely think of him' Langer Thus, for Saussure the linguistic sign is wholly immaterial - although he disliked referring to it as 'abstract' Saussure15 ; Saussure The immateriality of the Saussurean sign is a feature which tends to be neglected in many popular commentaries.

If the notion seems strange, we need to remind ourselves that words have no value in themselves - that is their value. Saussure noted that it is not the metal in a coin that fixes its value Saussure; Saussure Several reasons could be offered for this. For instance, if linguistic signs drew attention to their materiality this would hinder their communicative transparency Langer Furthermore, being immaterial, language is an extraordinarily economical medium and words are always ready-to-hand.

Nevertheless, a principled argument can be made for the revaluation of the materiality of the sign, as we shall see in due course.

Saussure noted that his choice of the terms signifier and signified helped to indicate 'the distinction which separates each from the other' Saussure67 ; Saussure Despite this, and the horizontal bar in his diagram of the sign, Saussure stressed that sound and thought or the signifier and the signified were as inseparable as the two sides of a piece of paper Saussure; Saussure They were 'intimately linked' in the mind 'by an associative link' - 'each triggers the other' Saussure66 ; Saussure Saussure presented these elements as wholly interdependent, neither pre-existing the other Silverman Within the context of spoken language, a sign could not consist of sound without sense or of sense without sound.

He used the two arrows in the diagram to suggest their interaction. The bar and the opposition nevertheless suggests that the signifier and the signified can be distinguished for analytical purposes. Poststructuralist theorists criticize the clear distinction which the Saussurean bar seems to suggest between the signifier and the signified; they seek to blur or erase it in order to reconfigure the sign or structural relations.

Some theorists have argued that 'the signifier is always separated from the signified Commonsense tends to insist that the signified takes precedence over, and pre-exists, the signifier: However, in dramatic contrast, post-Saussurean theorists have seen the model as implicitly granting primacy to the signifier, thus reversing the commonsensical position. Louis Hjelmslev used the terms 'expression' and 'content' to refer to the signifier and signified respectively Hjelmslev47ff.

The distinction between signifier and signified has sometimes been equated to the familiar dualism of 'form and content'. Within such a framework the signifier is seen as the form of the sign and the signified as the content. However, the metaphor of form as a 'container' is problematic, tending to support the equation of content with meaning, implying that meaning can be 'extracted' without an active process of interpretation and that form is not in itself meaningful Chandler Saussure argued that signs only make sense as part of a formal, generalized and abstract system.

His conception of meaning was purely structural and relational rather than referential: Saussure did not define signs in terms of some 'essential' or intrinsic nature. For Saussure, signs refer primarily to each other. Within the language system, 'everything depends on relations' Saussure; Saussure No sign makes sense on its own but only in relation to other signs.

Both signifier and signified are purely relational entities Saussure; Saussure This notion can be hard to understand since we may feel that an individual word such as 'tree' does have some meaning for us, but its meaning depends on its context in relation to the other words with which it is used. Together with the 'vertical' alignment of signifier and signified within each individual sign suggesting two structural 'levels'the emphasis on the relationship between signs defines what are in effect two planes - that of the signifier and the signifier.

Later, Louis Hjelmslev referred to the planes of 'expression' and 'content' Hjelmslev Saussure himself referred to sound and thought as two distinct but correlated planes. The arbitrary division of the two continua into signs is suggested by the dotted lines whilst the wavy rather than parallel edges of the two 'amorphous' masses suggest the lack of any 'natural' fit between them.

The gulf and lack of fit between the two planes highlights their relative autonomy. Whilst Saussure is careful not to refer directly to 'reality', Fredric Jameson reads into this feature of Saussure's system that 'it is not so much the individual word or sentence that "stands for" or "reflects" the individual object or event in the real world, but rather that the entire system of signs, the entire field of the langue, lies parallel to reality itself; that it is the totality of systematic language, in other words, which is analogous to whatever organized structures exist in the world of reality, and that our understanding proceeds from one whole or Gestalt to the other, rather than on a one-to-one basis' Jameson What Saussure refers to as the 'value' of a sign depends on its relations with other signs within the system - a sign has no 'absolute' value independent of this context Saussure80 ; Saussure Saussure uses an analogy with the game of chess, noting that the value of each piece depends on its position on the chessboard Saussure88 ; Saussure The sign is more than the sum of its parts.

Whilst signification - what is signified - clearly depends on the relationship between the two parts of the sign, the value of a sign is determined by the relationships between the sign and other signs within the system as a whole Saussure; Saussure The notion of value To think of a sign as nothing more would be to isolate it from the system to which it belongs.

It would be to suppose that a start could be made with individual signs, and a system constructed by putting them together. On the contrary, the system as a united whole is the starting point, from which it becomes possible, by a process of analysis, to identify its constituent elements. Saussure; SaussureAs an example of the distinction between signification and value, Saussure notes that 'The French word mouton may have the same meaning as the English word sheep; but it does not have the same value.

There are various reasons for this, but in particular the fact that the English word for the meat of this animal, as prepared and served for a meal, is not sheep but mutton. The difference in value between sheep and mouton hinges on the fact that in English there is also another word mutton for the meat, whereas mouton in French covers both' Saussure; Saussure Saussure's relational conception of meaning was specifically differential: Language for him was a system of functional differences and oppositions.

As John Sturrock points out, 'a one-term language is an impossibility because its single term could be applied to everything and differentiate nothing; it requires at least one other term to give it definition' Sturrock Advertising furnishes a good example of this notion, since what matters in 'positioning' a product is not the relationship of advertising signifiers to real-world referents, but the differentiation of each sign from the others to which it is related.

Saussure's concept of the relational identity of signs is at the heart of structuralist theory. Structuralist analysis focuses on the structural relations which are functional in the signifying system at a particular moment in history. Saussure argued that 'concepts What characterizes each most exactly is being whatever the others are not' Saussure; Saussure; my emphasis.

This notion may initially seem mystifying if not perverse, but the concept of negative differentiation becomes clearer if we consider how we might teach someone who did not share our language what we mean by the term 'red'.

We would be unlikely to make our point by simply showing them a range of different objects which all happened to be red - we would be probably do better to single out a red object from a sets of objects which were identical in all respects except colour.

Although Saussure focuses on speech, he also noted that in writing, 'the values of the letter are purely negative and differential' - all we need to be able to do is to distinguish one letter from another Saussure; Saussure As for his emphasis on negative differences, Saussure remarks that although both the signified and the signifier are purely differential and negative when considered separately, the sign in which they are combined is a positive term.

He adds that 'the moment we compare one sign with another as positive combinations, the term difference should be dropped They are simply in opposition to each other. The entire mechanism of language Although the signifier is treated by its users as 'standing for' the signified, Saussurean semioticians emphasize that there is no necessary, intrinsic, direct or inevitable relationship between the signifier and the signified.

Saussure stressed the arbitrariness of the sign Saussure67, 78 ; Saussure67, 78 - more specifically the arbitrariness of the link between the signifier and the signified Saussure67 ; Saussure He was focusing on linguistic signs, seeing language as the most important sign system; for Saussure, the arbitrary nature of the sign was the first principle of language Saussure67 ; Saussure67 - arbitrariness was identified later by Charles Hockett as a key 'design feature' of language Hockett ; Hockett ; Hockett The feature of arbitrariness may indeed help to account for the extraordinary versatility of language Lyons In the context of natural language, Saussure stressed that there is no inherent, essential, 'transparent', self-evident or 'natural' connection between the signifier and the signified - between the sound or shape of a word and the concept to which it refers Saussure67,76,; Saussure67, 69, 76, In language at least, the form of the signifier is not determined by what it signifies: Languages differ, of course, in how they refer to the same referent.

No specific signifier is 'naturally' more suited to a signified than any other signifier; in principle any signifier could represent any signified. Saussure observed that 'there is nothing at all to prevent the association of any idea whatsoever with any sequence of sounds whatsoever' Saussure76 ; Saussure76 ; 'the process which selects one particular sound-sequence to correspond to one particular idea is completely arbitrary' Saussure; Saussure This principle of the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign was not an original conception: Aristotle had noted that 'there can be no natural connection between the sound of any language and the things signified' cited in Richards In Plato's Cratylus Hermogenes urged Socrates to accept that 'whatever name you give to a thing is its right name; and if you give up that name and change it for another, the later name is no less correct than the earlier, just as we change the name of our servants; for I think no name belongs to a particular thing by nature' cited in Harris Whilst the notion of the arbitrariness of language was not new, but the emphasis which Saussure gave it can be seen as an original contribution, particularly in the context of a theory which bracketed the referent.

Note that although Saussure prioritized speech, he also stressed that 'the signs used in writing are arbitrary, The letter t, for instance, has no connection with the sound it denotes' Saussure; Saussure The arbitrariness principle can be applied not only to the sign, but to the whole sign-system. The fundamental arbitrariness of language is apparent from the observation that each language involves different distinctions between one signifier and another e.

The signified is clearly arbitrary if reality is perceived as a seamless continuum which is how Saussure sees the initially undifferentiated realms of both thought and sound: Commonsense suggests that the existence of things in the world preceded our apparently simple application of 'labels' to them a 'nomenclaturist' notion which Saussure rejected and to which we will return in due course.

Saussure noted that 'if words had the job of representing concepts fixed in advance, one would be able to find exact equivalents for them as between one language and another.

But this is not the case' Saussure; Saussure Reality is divided up into arbitrary categories by every language and the conceptual world with which each of us is familiar could have been divided up very differently.

Indeed, no two languages categorize reality in the same way. As John Passmore puts it, 'Languages differ by differentiating differently' cited in Sturrock Linguistic categories are not simply a consequence of some predefined structure in the world. There are no 'natural' concepts or categories which are simply 'reflected' in language. Language plays a crucial role in 'constructing reality'. If one accepts the arbitrariness of the relationship between signifier and signified then one may argue counter-intuitively that the signified is determined by the signifier rather than vice versa.

Indeed, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, in adapting Saussurean theories, sought to highlight the primacy of the signifier in the psyche by rewriting Saussure's model of the sign in the form of a quasi-algebraic sign in which a capital 'S' representing the signifier is placed over a lower case and italicized 's' representing the signifiedthese two signifiers being separated by a horizontal 'bar' Lacan This suited Lacan's purpose of emphasizing how the signified inevitably 'slips beneath' the signifier, resisting our attempts to delimit it.

Lacan poetically refers to Saussure's illustration of the planes of sound and thought as 'an image resembling the wavy lines of the upper and lower Waters in miniatures from manuscripts of Genesis; a double flux marked by streaks of rain', suggesting that this can be seen as illustrating the 'incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier' - although he argues that one should regard the dotted vertical lines not as 'segments of correspondence' but as 'anchoring points' points de capiton - literally, the 'buttons' which anchor upholstery to furniture.

However, he notes that this model is too linear, since 'there is in effect no signifying chain that does not have, as if attached to the punctuation of each of its units, a whole articulation of relevant contexts suspended 'vertically', as it were, from that point' ibid. Note that whilst the intent of Lacan in placing the signifier over the signified is clear enough, his representational strategy seems a little curious, since in the modelling of society orthodox Marxists routinely represent the fundamental driving force of 'the [techno-economic] base' as logically below 'the [ideological] superstructure'.

The arbitrariness of the sign is a radical concept because it proposes the autonomy of language in relation to reality. The Saussurean model, with its emphasis on internal structures within a sign system, can be seen as supporting the notion that language does not 'reflect' reality but rather constructs it.

We can use language 'to say what isn't in the world, as well as what is. And since we come to know the world through whatever language we have been born into the midst of, it is legitimate to argue that our language determines reality, rather than reality our language' Sturrock Later critics have lamented his model's detachment from social context Gardiner Robert Stam argues that by 'bracketing the referent', the Saussurean model 'severs text from history' Stam We will return to this theme of the relationship between language and 'reality' in our discussion of 'modality and representation'.

The arbitrary aspect of signs does help to account for the scope for their interpretation and the importance of context. There is no one-to-one link between signifier and signified; signs have multiple rather than single meanings. Within a single language, one signifier may refer to many signifieds e. Some commentators are critical of the stance that the relationship of the signifier to the signified, even in language, is always completely arbitrary e.

Onomatopoeic words are often mentioned in this context, though some semioticians retort that this hardly accounts for the variability between different languages in their words for the same sounds notably the sounds made by familiar animals Saussure69 ; Saussure Saussure declares that 'the entire linguistic system is founded upon the irrational principle that the sign is arbitrary'. This provocative declaration is followed immediately by the acknowledgement that 'applied without restriction, this principle would lead to utter chaos' Saussure; Saussure If linguistic signs were to be totally arbitrary in every way language would not be a system and its communicative function would be destroyed.

He concedes that 'there exists no language in which nothing at all is motivated' ibid. Saussure admits that 'a language is not completely arbitrary, for the system has a certain rationality' Saussure73 ; Saussure The principle of arbitrariness does not mean that the form of a word is accidental or random, of course.

Whilst the sign is not determined extralinguistically it is subject to intralinguistic determination. For instance, signifiers must constitute well-formed combinations of sounds which conform with existing patterns within the language in question. Furthermore, we can recognize that a compound noun such as 'screwdriver' is not wholly arbitrary since it is a meaningful combination of two existing signs. Saussure introduces a distinction between degrees of arbitrariness: The fundamental principle of the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign does not prevent us from distinguishing in any language between what is intrinsically arbitrary - that is, unmotivated - and what is only relatively arbitrary.

Not all signs are absolutely arbitrary. In some cases, there are factors which allow us to recognize different degrees of arbitrariness, although never to discard the notion entirely. The sign may be motivated to a certain extent Saussure; Saussure; original emphasis, see also following pages Here then Saussure modifies his stance somewhat and refers to signs as being 'relatively arbitrary'.

Some subsequent theorists echoing Althusserian Marxist terminology refer to the relationship between the signifier and the signified in terms of 'relative autonomy' Tagg; Lechte The relative conventionality of relationships between signified and signifier is a point to which I return below.

It should be noted that whilst the relationships between signifiers and their signifieds are ontologically arbitrary philosophically, it would not make any difference to the status of these entities in 'the order of things' if what we call 'black' had always been called 'white' and vice versathis is not to suggest that signifying systems are socially or historically arbitrary.

Natural languages are not, of course, arbitrarily established, unlike historical inventions such as Morse Code. Nor does the arbitrary nature of the sign make it socially 'neutral' or materially 'transparent' - for example, in Western culture 'white' has come to be a privileged signifier Dyer Even in the case of the 'arbitrary' colours of traffic lights, the original choice of red for 'stop' was not entirely arbitrary, since it already carried relevant associations with danger. As part of its social use within a code a term which became fundamental amongst post-Saussurean semioticiansevery sign acquires a history and connotations of its own which are familiar to members of the sign-users' culture.

Saussure remarked that although the signifier 'may seem to be freely chosen', from the point of view of the linguistic community it is 'imposed rather than freely chosen' because 'a language is always an inheritance from the past' which its users have 'no choice but to accept' Saussure; Saussure Indeed, 'it is because the linguistic sign is arbitrary that it knows no other law than that of tradition, and [it is] because it is founded upon tradition that it can be arbitrary' Saussure74 ; Saussure The arbitrariness principle does not, of course mean that an individual can arbitrarily choose any signifier for a given signified.

The relation between a signifier and its signified is not a matter of individual choice; if it were then communication would become impossible. From the point-of-view of individual language-users, language is a 'given' - we don't create the system for ourselves.

Saussure refers to the language system as a non-negotiable 'contract' into which one is born Saussure14 ; Saussure14 - although he later problematizes the term ibid. The ontological arbitrariness which it involves becomes invisible to us as we learn to accept it as 'natural'. The Saussurean legacy of the arbitrariness of signs leads semioticians to stress that the relationship between the signifier and the signified is conventional - dependent on social and cultural conventions.

This is particularly clear in the case of the linguistic signs with which Saussure was concerned: Saussure felt that the main concern of semiotics should be 'the whole group of systems grounded in the arbitrariness of the sign'. That is why the most complex and the most widespread of all systems of expression, which is the one we find in human languages, is also the most characteristic of all.

In this sense, linguistics serves as a model for the whole of semiology, even though languages represent only one type of semiological system' Saussure68 ; Saussure He did not in fact offer many examples of sign systems other than spoken language and writing, mentioning only: Saussure added that 'any means of expression accepted in a society rests in principle upon a collective habit, or on convention - which comes to the same thing' Saussure68 ; Saussure However, whilst purely conventional signs such as words are quite independent of their referents, other less conventional forms of signs are often somewhat less independent of them.

Nevertheless, since the arbitary nature of linguistic signs is clear, those who have adopted the Saussurean model have tended to avoid 'the familiar mistake of assuming that signs which appear natural to those who use them have an intrinsic meaning and require no explanation' Culler5.

At around the same time as Saussure was formulating his model of the sign, of 'semiology' and of a structuralist methodology, across the Atlantic independent work was also in progress as the pragmatist philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce formulated his own model of the sign, of 'semiotic' and of the taxonomies of signs. In contrast to Saussure's model of the sign in the form of a 'self-contained dyad', Peirce offered a triadic model: It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign.

That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea, which I have sometimes called the ground of the representamen' Peirce2. The interaction between the representamen, the object and the interpretant is referred to by Peirce as 'semiosis' ibid. Within Peirce's model of the sign, the traffic light sign for 'stop' would consist of: Peirce's model of the sign includes an object or referent - which does not, of course, feature directly in Saussure's model.

The representamen is similar in meaning to Saussure's signifier whilst the interpretant is similar in meaning to the signified Silverman However, the interpretant has a quality unlike that of the signified: Peirce noted that 'a sign The sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign' Peirce2. Umberto Eco uses the phrase 'unlimited semiosis' to refer to the way in which this could lead as Peirce was well aware to a series of successive interpretants potentially ad infinitum ibid.

Elsewhere Peirce added that 'the meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation' ibid. Any initial interpretation can be re-interpreted.

That a signified can itself play the role of a signifier is familiar to anyone who uses a dictionary and finds themselves going beyond the original definition to look up yet another word which it employs.

What Does Lacan Say About… The Signifier?

This concept can be seen as going beyond Saussure's emphasis on the value of a sign lying in its relation to other signs and it was later to be developed more radically by poststructuralist theorists. Another concept which is alluded to within Peirce's model which has been taken up by later theorists but which was explicitly excluded from Saussure's model is the notion of dialogical thought.

It stems in part from Peirce's emphasis on 'semiosis' as a process which is in distinct contrast to Saussure's synchronic emphasis on structure Peirce5.

  • Signifier and Signified
  • Signified and signifier

Peirce argued that 'all thinking is dialogic in form. Your self of one instant appeals to your deeper self for his assent' Peirce6.

This notion resurfaced in a more developed form in the s in the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin Bakhtin One important aspect of this is its characterization even of internal reflection as fundamentally social. Peirce, clearly fascinated by tripartite structures, made a phenomenological distinction between the sign itself [or the representamen] as an instance of 'Firstness', its object as an instance of 'Secondness' and the interpretant as an instance of 'Thirdness'.

Such unfamiliar terms are relatively modest examples of Peircean coinages, and the complexity of his terminology and style has been a factor in limiting the influence of a distinctively Peircean semiotics.

Variants of Peirce's triad are often presented as 'the semiotic triangle' as if there were only one version. The broken line at the base of the triangle is intended to indicate that there is not necessarily any observable or direct relationship between the sign vehicle and the referent. Unlike Saussure's abstract signified which is analogous to term B rather than to C the referent is an 'object'. This need not exclude the reference of signs to abstract concepts and fictional entities as well as to physical things, but Peirce's model allocates a place for an objective reality which Saussure's model did not directly feature though Peirce was not a naive realist, and argued that all experience is mediated by signs.

Note, however, that Peirce emphasized that 'the dependence of the mode of existence of the thing represented upon the mode of this or that representation of it In this understanding of "interpretation," form and content are not distinct; rather, every "form" is, alternatively, a semantic "content" as well, a "signifying form," so that interpretation offers an analogical paraphrase of something that already signifies within some other system of signification.

In his lifetime Saussure published relatively little, and his major work, the Course, was the transcription by his students of several courses in general linguistics that he offered in — In the Course Saussure called for the "scientific" study of language as opposed to the nineteenth-century work in historical linguistics. That work is one of the great achievements of Western intellect: It was precisely this study of the unique occurrences of words, with the concomitant assumption that the basic "unit" of language is, in fact, the positive existence of these "word-elements," that Saussure questioned.

His work was an attempt to reduce the mass of facts about language, studied so minutely by historical linguistics, to a manageable number of propositions. The "comparative school" of nineteenth-century philology, Saussure says in the Course, "did not succeed in setting up the true science of linguistics" because "it failed to seek out the nature of its object of study" trans.

That "nature," he argues, is to be found not simply in the "elemental" words that a language comprises—the seeming "positive" facts or "substances" of language—but in the formal relationships that give rise to those "substances.

the relationship between signifier and signified is never

The first is that the scientific study of language needs to develop and study the system rather than the history of linguistic phenomena. This focus on the "system" of language is analogous to the general questions about literature that literary theory focuses upon.

For this reason, he distinguishes between the particular occurrences of language—its particular "speech-events," which he designates as parole—and the proper object of linguistics, the system or "code" governing those events, which he designates as langue.

Such a systematic study, moreover, calls for a "synchronic" conception of the relationship among the elements of language at a particular instant rather than the "diachronic" study of the development of language through history. This assumption gave rise to what roman jakobson in came to designate as "structuralism," in which "any set of phenomena examined by contemporary science is treated not as a mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole [in which] the mechanical conception of processes yields to the question of their function" Along with this, moreover, Jakobson is also describing the second foundational assumption in Saussurean—we can now call it "structural" —linguistics: Instead of studying particular and unique events and entities i.

This is a radical reorientation in conceiving of experience and phenomena, one whose importance the philosopher Ernst Cassirer has compared to "the new science of Galileo which in the seventeenth century changed our whole concept of the physical world" cited in Culler, Pursuit In his linguistics Saussure accomplishes this transformation specifically in the redefinition of the linguistic "word," which he describes as the linguistic "sign" and defines in functionalist terms.

The nature of their "combination" is "functional" in that neither the signified nor the signifier is the "cause" of the other; rather, "each [derives] its values from the other" trans.

In this way, Saussure defines the basic element of language, the sign, relationally and subjects to rigorous—even critical—analysis the basic assumption of historical linguistics, namely, the identity of the elemental units of language and signification i. The reason we can recognize different occurrences of the word "tree" as the "same" word is not because the word is defined by inherent qualities—it is not a "mechanical agglomeration" of such qualities—but because it is defined as an element in a system, the "structural whole," of language.

Such a relational or "diacritical" definition of an entity governs the conception of all the elements of language in structural linguistics. This is clearest in the most impressive achievement of Saussurean linguistics, the development of the concepts of the "phonemes" and "distinctive features" of language.

Phonemes are the smallest articulated and signifying units of a language. They are not the sounds that occur in language but the "sound images" Saussure mentions, which are apprehended by speakers— phenomenally apprehended—as conveying meaning.

Phonemes, then, the smallest perceptible elements of language, are not positive objects but a "phenomenological reality. An aspirated t i. In every natural language the vast number of possible words is a combination of a small number of phonemes. English, for instance, possesses fewer than 40 phonemes that combine to form more than a million different words. The phonemes of language are themselves systematically organized structures of features.

Trubetzkoy isolated the "distinctive features" of phonemes. These features are based upon the physiological structure of the speech organs—tongue, teeth, vocal chords, and so on—that Saussure mentions in the Course and that Harris describes as "physiological phonetics" trans. Baskin, 38 ] —and they combine in "bundles" of binary oppositions to form phonemes. In this way, phonology is a specific example of a general rule of language described by Saussure: In this framework, linguistic identities are determined not by inherent qualities but by systemic "structural" relationships.

Much twentieth-century literary criticism—by W. Wimsatt, northrop frye, j. Saussure reflects this reconception of causal explanation as functional representation in his description of a number of linguistic phenomena at every level, characterized by "complementary facets," including irreducible dualities such as "auditory-articulatory units," "social-individual aspects" of signs, and the "system-evolution" of a language mentioned above.

the relationship between signifier and signified is never

In language there are only differences. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system. Still, within this work, as Jonathan Culler has argued, Saussure demonstrated "the fecundity of thinking of language as a system of purely relational items, even when working at the task of historical reconstruction" Saussure He had discovered, by a purely formal analysis, what are now known as the laryngeals of Indo-European" This conception of the relational or diacritical determination of the elements of signification, which is both implicit and explicit in the Course, suggests a third assumption governing structural linguistics, what Saussure calls "the arbitrary nature of the sign.

But more than this, it means that the signified is arbitrary as well: This should make clear that the numbering of assumptions we have been presenting does not represent an order of priority: That is, Saussurean linguistics understands the phenomena it studies in overarching relationships of combination and contrast in language.

In this conception, language is both the process of articulating meaning signification and its product communicationand these two functions of language are neither identical nor fully congruent see Schleifer, Analogical, ch.

What Does Lacan Say About… The Signifier? |

Since the elements of language are arbitrary, moreover, neither contrast nor combination can be said to be basic. Thus, in language distinctive features combine to form contrasting phonemes on another level of apprehension, phonemes combine to form contrasting morphemes, morphemes combine to form words, words combine to form sentences, and so on.

Baskin, ] is more than the mechanical agglomeration of hydrogen and oxygen. Reflecting a dramatic shift away from either simple physicality or mentalism, Saussure "socializes" language at every level, from the production of phonemes to the interpretation of complex meaning.

Individual language acts, he notes, are "merely language in embryo" 13and language itself "exists perfectly only within a collectivity" To understand the structure of both a language specifically and language in general, one must consider it as a "social phenomena.

In fact, Saussure argues, the "well defined entity of language" that is amenable to scientific study—its structure—is the "social side of speech, outside the individual who can never create or modify it by himself; it exists only in virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community" Saussure notes, "Language never exists even for a moment except as a social fact, for it is a semiological phenomena.

Its social nature is one of its inner characteristics" In this scheme, diachronicity is not so much negated as situated alongside a synchronic system that subsumes the evolutionarily informed artifacts of language under the larger framework of their functionality for a community of speakers at a given moment. Similarly, both the "relational determinism" of linguistic entities and the arbitrary nature of the sign itself are situated within a social context.

In the former, the nonpositive object of study found emerging from progressively more complex levels of combination and contrast like phenomenologically apprehended optical illusions is a socially determined object, intimately implicated in the "form-contents" of institutions, conventions, and other facets of culture.

Relatedly, the arbitrariness of the sign is resolved by social contingency: In a social frame, arbitrariness emerges as a productive field of linguistic creation, alternatively reflecting and maintaining social conventions while also providing the possibility of their transmutation.

The "science" of semiotics, as it came to be practiced in eastern Europe in the s and s and Paris in the s and s, widened the study of language and linguistic structures to literary artifacts constituted or articulated by those structures.

Throughout the late part of his career, moreover, even while he was offering the courses in general linguistics, Saussure pursued his own "semiotic" analysis of late Latin poetry in an attempt to discover deliberately concealed anagrams of proper names.

The method of study was in many ways the opposite of the functional rationalism of his linguistic analyses: