What is meant by langue and parole?



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These terms, from Frederick de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics, are used to differentiate between the tool and its use. Langue (French for “language) is a system of speech—its syntax, tenses, vocabulary, rules of grammar, declensions, inflections, etc.—the language as a system. Parole is what the language is used for—to declare, to object, to describe, to promise, etc., etc.—what are called speech acts—things you do with the language system, the langue. In mechanical terms, the tool called a chisel is the langue, the act of chiseling is the parole (you can also use the langue as a screw driver if you want to). A carjack is used to raise a car. These terms are used to describe and discuss the “structure” of human discourse, especially literary discourse between writer and reader. How, for example, does Herman Melville tell us that Moby Dick is a whale, a symbol, a curse, and a fate? Structural analysis such as Saussure’s tries to get past the simplistic elements of literature such as plot and character to the “structure” that contains it. English-speaking scholars have maintained these French terms to differentiate them from the denotation of the common terms “language” and “speech.”

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