An Analysis of Course in General Linguistics
“Long human words (the longer the better) were easy, unmistakable, and rarely changed their meanings . . . but short words were slippery, unpredictable, changing their meanings without any pattern.”
-Robert A. Heinlein
In this text, Saussure concerns himself with what he refers to language, which he defines as a system of signs that express a concept, and argues that it can be expressed by two components: langue (the abstract system of language that is internalized by a community) and parole (the individual acts of speech). Furthermore, Saussure regards parole as heterogeneous (composed of many parts) and langue as homogeneous (composed ...view middle of the document...
Following this logic, Saussure concludes that the sign is ultimately determined by its relationship to the other signs in the system, giving it a range of possible meanings, rather than its sound pattern and concept. To demonstrate this, we must only look at the French word mouton. Mouton has the same meaning as the English word sheep, but not the same value as the word mouton can be used to describe the meal lamb, but the word sheep cannot, as it has been delimited by the word mutton. Thus, Saussure argues, language is a system of interdependent signs, not only delimiting a sign's range of use, for which it is necessary, because an isolated sign could be used for absolutely anything or nothing without first being distinguished from another sign (Signx doesn’t mean y because it is different from Signy), but it is also what makes meaning possible – an example being a set of hypothetical synonyms: Sx, Sy, and Sz. They each have a particular meaning so long as they exist in contrast to one another. For this reason, if two of the terms disappeared, then the remaining sign would take on their roles because it would have nothing to distinguish it from.
The basic idea of what Saussure means...