The Arbitrariness of Linguistic Signs

The Arbitrariness of Linguistic Signs

The arbitrariness of a linguistic sign is reflected in the fact that a signifier like the series of sounds has no internal connection with the concept of a “pie” which it signifies. It follows that

when we hear a sequence of sounds, we assign it by association the concept of a signified object. In fact in the signified object (table) there is nothing inherent that would predetermine its signification exclusively by the above mentioned sequence of sounds. We know very well, that the same concept (table) is assigned various sequences of sounds in different languages: Tisch in German, mesa in Spanish, стіл in Ukrainian. This fact enabled F. de Saussure to draw the conclusion about the arbitrariness of the relationship between the signifiant and the signifies this becoming one of the crucial points of this theory of sign. The evidence is obvious – if the relationship between these two facets of the linguistic sign were inherent, there would exist a single language only.

Saussurean precise formulation of the linguistic sign allows him to situate arbitrariness – which he called the “first primary concept” of Linguistics – at the conjunction of signified and signifier. This represented an advance over earlier formulations of arbitrariness, which focused upon the relationship between the sign as a whole and the real-world objects conceptualized in the signified.