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Saussure, Ferdinand de (1857–1913)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Though he made a major contribution to the comparative and historical studies which dominated nineteenth-century linguistics, Saussure is best known today for the development of a radically different conception of language and of the methodology of linguistics which became central to twentieth-century structural linguistics. According to this conception a language is a system of signs which are radically arbitrary, so that their significations are determined only by the historically constituted systems of conventions to which they belong – such a system Saussure called ‘la langue‘. It follows, therefore, that a linguistic study is first and foremost one of la langue, that is, of the conventional relations obtaining at a given time between signs belonging to the same system, rather than one of the development of linguistic forms over time, as the comparativists had maintained.

Citing this article:
Holdcroft, David. Saussure, Ferdinand de (1857–1913), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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