Systematicity of Language

Systematicity of Language

Saussure conceived language as a system of signs. Being the result of universal human ability of speech, it is arbitrary and socially conditioned. Therefore, it is a supraindividual, abstract and hierarchical system of signs, their interrelations, values and combinatory possibilities. F. de Saussure explained the fundamental principles of language by comparing it to the game of chess:

l. The value of individual pieces depends on their position on a chessboard, just like the value of each element in a language is determined by its opposition to all other elements.

2. The system (situation) is always temporary and conditioned by the changes in the position of the pieces.

3. The transition from one state of balance to another one (or, linguistically, from one synchrony to another one) results from moving a piece.

That means that:

a) each move on a chessboard is executed by a single piece; analogically, changes in language apply to isolated elements;

b) in spite of this fact, the move is projected onto the situation in the whole system, and the consequences cannot be foreseen. A move can change the situation in a fundamental way, or it has no effects on the situation. The same applies to the changes in language;

c) the move of a piece (language element) is not important. What is important is the former and the subsequent situations. It is not important how the existing state of affairs in chess or language has been achieved. What matters is the existing synchronic situation.

Thus, langue, according to F. de Saussure, is a self-contained network of relationships among elements.