Langue as a System of Signs: Semiology

Langue as a System of Signs: Semiology

Saussure advanced an important tenet on the systemic character of language, defining it as the system subordinated to its internal order, as the totality of interconnected elements.

The semiological conception of language as a collection of signs (a sign being understood as the collation of a signifying word and a signified concept) was anticipated in the philosophy of Aristotle (384-22 ВС), elaborated by the Stoics and reached its summit in the “speculative grammar” of the twelfth century.

For Saussure the network of linguistic signs which constitute langue is made up of the conjunction of a significant (“signifier”), understood as a sound pattern deposited in the mind, and a signifier (“signified”) a concept that is also deposited in the mind. Saussure conceives the linguistic sign as a connection of the phonetic substance (signifiant) and the concept (signifier). The terms signifiant and signifier arc abstract notions mutually related in human consciousness by association.

It follows that the signifiant should not be conceived as a mere physical sound, but its reflection or trace in our brain. The signifier is even more abstract. These both facets of the sign arc inseparable and Saussure compared them to the front and back of a single sheet of paper: by cutting one of the components the other is modified accordingly. It is important to note that the signifier is wholly distinct from the actually uttered word, as is the signified from the actual physical thing conceived of (if one exists).

The second important principle is that once established in speech community the relationship between the signifiant and the signifier is obligatory for all members of the speech community.
The necessity of studying signs both within and outside language led Saussure to the founding of modern semiology (semiotics).

Out of many different systems of signs used by people, according to his doctrine, the most important is language. Hence Linguistics is a component part of semiology, this belonging to Humanities. This was a new standpoint different to prevailing tendencies aimed at the treatment of Linguistics as a natural science. F. de Saussure defines language as a system of mutually interrelated signs. The value of each individual sign is determined by its meaning and by its relationship to other signs within the system. The system of signs is thus based upon the oppositions among the signs.