How is Gates' "Signifyin'" a challenge to Saussurian concept of "Signification"?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gates concept of "Signifyin'" (Signifying) is entirely different from Sassuare's concept of Signification. As Gates says, the two concepts have everything to do with each other and absolutely nothing at all to do with each other. Thus there seems to be no challenge of Gates' to Saussure's.

Signifyin' is a language construction that is a speech act and generally composed of multiple words (or as Saussure would say, multiple signifiers). Signifyin' fills a representational function, a symbolic, figurative function in language of African American speakers. Trough Signifyin' (the {g} is dropped), challenges are leveled between opposing individuals, leadership may be contested, conflicts may be resolved, among other functions. Signifyin' relates to Signification because every speech act--long or short--is comprised of signifiers that signify concepts or ideas that are arbitrarily culturally endowed with meaning. 

Saussurean Signification is the linguistic theory that every concept and idea is expressed as a signified identified by a signifier that is defined by what the other signifiers existing in a chain of signifiers is not (definition by negation). Compare this to Gates' speech act of signifyin' that comprises an entire speech act composed of multiple signifiers in multiple signifier chains.

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