A Saussurean Linguistics Glossary

[Words in bold are defined within this glossary.]

arbitrariness – the relationship of the signifier and signified is said to be relatively unrelated (arbitrary).

Cours de linguistique générale (A Course in General Linguistics) – published posthumously in 1916 from notes gathered by Saussure‘s students of his lectures given between 1907 and 1911.

descriptive linguistics – the understanding that language should be described as it is used, not be forced to conform to predetermined rules. See also prescriptive linguistics.

diachronic – to look at the changes of a language over time. See also synchronic.

difference, system of – since things do not have a value in themselves their value is only through its difference to all other things. Signs function through a system of difference.

langue – the actual rules of language. See also parole.

linguistics – the scientific study of language.

paradigmatic – the system of difference played out within a sentence by examining the possible words in the same position. The relations are “vertical”. See also syntagmatic.

parole – language as it is actually used. See also langue.

philology – the term for the study of language before the advent of modern linguistics. Traditionally, to study language had meant to see grammar as prescriptive. Historical Philology and Comparative Philology were both about what is right rather than about how language works.

prescriptive linguistics – the belief that language should conform to predetermined rules. See also descriptive linguistics.

referent – the thing(s) or person(s) that a signified refers to.

Saussure, Ferdinand de (1857-1913) – Swiss linguist and semiotician. Founder of modern linguistics. Known for his posthumously published Cours de linguistique générale (A Course in General Linguistics).

sign – a linguistic unit created from the combination of signifier and signified. A sign only has value through the system of difference between signs of a language (langue).

signified – the mental meaning or concept of a sign.

signifier – the mental “sound pattern” of a sign.

structuralism – the study of language with emphasis on the structures of it. It is equated to Saussurean Linguistics.

synchronic – to look at a language at a particular point in time. See also diachronic.

syntagmatic – the system of difference played out within a sentence by examining the possible shift of words across the sentence. The relations are “horizontal”. See also paradigmatic.

value – of a sign, value is made through the system of differences to all other signs within the language.

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