What does Saussure mean by synchrony?
Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure was in many ways a reaction against the tradition of earlier branches of philology and historical linguistics which were focused primarily on the development of languages over time. The reasons for this were threefold:
- Classical philology as a discipline developed around the study of Greek and Latin.
- One primary focus of linguists in the nineteenth century (in the west) had been critical studies of the Bible, involving, inter alia, the attempt to reconstruct an Adamic language.
- The British colonization of England led to the development of the Indo-European hypothesis, and many linguistics focused on trying to understand the family tree of the Indo-European languages.
This historical study is called "diachronic". Saussure argued that it was also possible to study language synchronically, in terms of how language function as a system at a single moment in time and space, rather than comparatively or diachronically.
Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, developed the idea of synchrony, which refers to the study of language as a system at one point in time. A synchronic approach to studying language involves looking at it at one moment in time without considering its history. Saussure regarded language as a system of signs in which one sign changes relative to other signs. For example, British English and Indian English have a synchronic relationship. In contrast, a diachronic approach to studying language involves looking at the evolution of language over time and throughout history. For example, fifteenth-century English and modern English have a diachronic relationship. Saussure sought to develop a more synchronic analysis of language instead of only looking at the ways language has changed over time.