Ferdinand de Saussure Essay Example for Free

Roland Barthes is one scholar who took Saussure's counsel to heart. He helped found the modern science of semiology, applying structuralism to the "myths" he saw all around him: media, fashion, art, photography, architecture, and especially literature. For Barthes, "myth is a system of communication." It is a "message," a "mode of signification," a "form" (Mythologies, p. 109). With a plethora of complexities and nuances, Barthes extends Saussure's structuralism and applies it to myth as follows:

From Locke to Saussure Essays on the Study of Language …

From Locke to Saussure Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History /Hans Aarsleff
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Saussure's System For Evaluating Linguistics Essay | …

Naturally, this approach encountered the opposition of those who considered it to be a mere avatar of philosophical idealism since all processes appeared to be ultimately referred to an abstract a-chronic basic structure, a sort of ontologism of Saussure’s synchrony. The standard “semiolinguistic” theory, as it came to be called by Greimas himself who at times echoed the rhetoric of Noam Chomsky through the use of expressions such as deep and surface structures, was said to be immune to empirically based criticism since its claim to scientific status was founded on its logical consistency with respect to its initial axioms. This, however, involved some degree of epistemological anxiety as well as in-group debates, typical of all attempts at establishing an ultimate theory.


"The essential feature of Saussure's linguistic sign is that, being intrinsically arbitrary, it can be identified only by contrast with coexisting signs of the same nature, which together constitute a structured system" (p. x).

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From Locke To Saussure Essays On The Study Of Language …

Saussure’s efforts, however, were focused on the theoretical status of linguistic signs and did not deal at any significant length with any other semiological systems. While numerous and detailed linguistic examples were provided in his teaching, there is very little both in the Course and in the manuscripts concerning this new science beyond some mentions of possible domains of inquiry: “A language is a system of signs expressing ideas, and hence comparable to writing, the deaf-and-dumb alphabet, symbolic rites, forms of politeness, military signals, and so on. It is simply the most important of such systems” (1983:15).

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Genealogical reconstructions are a common feature of new disciplines which tend to locate their source in some fountainheads in order to establish their historical legitimacy. Semiotics is no exception. But we must not forget that Saussure himself did not consider that his semiological speculations were yet worthy of being published. His high epistemological standards prevented him from considering that, at the time when he was giving his last lectures, his tentative efforts amounted to a foundational treatise on general linguistics, still less on semiology. When perusing the sources of the (Godel 1957; Saussure 1967, 1968, 1974), one may acquire an understanding of the reasons for which Saussure was not willing to publish a book on this topic, as the editors apologetically emphasized. This would have required that the author, in his own view, had indeed reached some definite conclusions. Instead, the impression that these sources convey is that Saussure was still struggling with the complexity and implications of the linguistic and semantic controversies of the late XIXth century.

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In the same vein, Christian Metz (1931-1994) undertook, in the wake of Barthes’s earlier discussions of film from a “semiological” point of view, to establish a semiotics of cinema based on Saussurean and Hjelmslevian notions (1968) before shifting in the 1970s to a purely psychoanalytical approach. During his semiological phase, Metz struggled with the difficulties involved in the direct application of the concepts and methods of Saussurean structural linguistics to a multimodal cultural object as complex and diverse as cinema. His own blend of semiotic optimism and epistemological anxiety is voiced in his landmark book (1971). In his (1972), he credited Peirce for his leading role in the emergence of semiotics, thus signaling an epistemological shift among some prominent actors on the French scene.