A Course In General Linguistics - Ferdinand-de-Saussure

A Course In General Linguistics – Ferdinand-de-Saussure

A Course In General Linguistics is an amazing work of Swiss linguist, semiotician, and philosopher, Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure is known for laying the groundwork for structuralism and also modern linguistics. He gave the concept of Structuralism and how everything found in this world is built of structures. 

He gave several important terminologies that we will be discussing to give you a better and easy understanding of his thoughts and ideas. 

A Course In General Linguistics – Important Terms


It means studying the history of language since the beginning and the various changes that took place over the course of time. You can call it the evolution of language. For example, the English that we study or read today is slightly different from what it was in the beginning. The language evolved with time and Diachronic means going through this evolution. 


Studying the language and its usage at a particular moment. You can understand it this way, the English we are reading or speaking today, at this particular moment would be Synchronic. It is also called synchronic linguistics, existing at a particular period of time. 


Langue means Language. It is a universal phenomenon. Language is a system where a set of rules, structures, signs, and principles are to be followed. It is a system that signifies meaning and helps in speech or other modes of communication. 

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Parole means how an individual uses the language. It means how a person or an individual performs a language in his speech. For example, the English language is similar for all, but how two individuals speak all those words is different. Everyone has their own way of using that language. 

This example will help you understand better. If you are playing a board game or a game of cards then you are abided by the rules. You are aware that there are rules, there is a whole structure for playing the game and you have to follow them. Those rules or structures would be Langue. How you decide to play the game, which card you throw first or your moves in the game of chess are all your personal and concrete choice. This would be Parole

Sign Signifier and Signified

His way of structuralism includes all these elements that form the structure of the language. 

You already know that a Sign means a symbol that is used in place of something. It is the basic unit of language. A Signifier is how a sign is presented in a physical form. It can be an object, letters, icons, images, etc. It helps Sign to convey its meaning. 

Signified is the total meaning we understand with the help of sign and signifier. It is the final result that provides us with the meaning and we understand what was meant to be said. 

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For example, you must have seen the gear icon⚙️ on your mobile or other devices. This gear icon is a Sign and we know what it means in our device. The image of this icon, the gear image would be Signifier which is helping us understand what the image means to convey. Here, the Signified would be the meaning we understood. We all know that this icon stands for Settings of our device so the final meaning that this sign, with the help of the signifier, wanted to convey is the Signified.


It means that there is no concrete evidence or a solid reason why a signifier is attached to a signified but it has been used for a long so we just go with the flow. For example, I say that I saw a small, four-legged, furry animal on the street who was feeding on a bone. This will make an image in your mind that the animal I saw is definitely a dog, but why? Because it is known that a dog would be furry, with four legs, a tail, and all that and so whenever we see a similar animal, we will call it a dog. There is no reason why a furry, four-legged animal is called a dog but it has been called for a long so we are using it. 


Syntagmatic means the structure of a sentence. Here, the positioning of the words matters to form the meaning of a sentence. For example, I write down a sentence, 

Venessa killed a bug with her sandal. This is the correct sequence or the structure of the sentence that provides us with the correct meaning. If we interchange the words, A bug killed Venessa with her sandal, this would change the entire course of the sentence and will not form a meaning. 


Paradigmatic means substituting a word with a different word that would not destroy the structure of the sentence and would still form a meaning. The words that are being substituted belong to the same grammatical category. For example, Venessa killed a lizard with a stick. Here, we substituted bug with lizard and sandal with a stick but still, the sentence forms a structure and the structure provides meaning. 

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Final Words

Ferdinand de Saussure talked about structuralism and how it is important in language or sentence formation to convey complete meaning. He used all these important terminologies in his work that are related to this concept.

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