Course in General Linguistics Questions and Answers
by Ferdinand de Saussure

Start Your Free Trial

Explain Saussure's concept of the Structure of Language. I need the answer in details.

Expert Answers info

Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write3,307 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Science

Saussure's Course in General Linguistics was compiled from his lecture notes and published after his death. The first thing to know about his concept of the structure of language is the arbitrary nature of the sign. That is, given that there have been thousands of human languages (written and spoken), he questioned how and why there can be a thousand different words for the same thing. He concluded that there is no essential or inherent relationship between a word (signifier) and its meaning/referent (signified). In other words, the word "tree" or the German "baum" have been accepted as signifiers of tree for cultural reasons. There is nothing meaningful about the sound of the words or the way the letters are written which necessitates their relationship to the meaning or actual tree.

In other words, theoretically, any word can be a signifier for tree. Cases of onomatopoeia like "buzz" are exceptions but they are also arbitrary because they are determined by our audible sense of a buzz...

(The entire section contains 555 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial