The Linearity of Signifiers

The Linearity of Signifiers

After arbitrariness the second primary principle of Linguistics for Saussure is that linguistic signifiers and hence signs are linear in character because they have a temporal existence. “Utterances are realized in time” means that two signs cannot occur concurrently. They must be ordered in sequence in the form of a line. This distinguishes language from visual signals that can be used concurrently, because they are set in space and not in time. In other words, “linearity” is part of what distinguishes spoken language as “real” language as opposed to writing, a secondary representation that is not necessarily linear.

The theory of the linear character of linguistic signs has its consequence for the approach to the issue of word order; the relations between the signs occurring in the utterance, and for Saussure’s widely applied principle of syntagmas.