What is structuralism in linguistics ?Discuss the four major methodological principles put forward by Saussure giving examples where necessary .

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kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To first understand the major methodological principles of structuralism, one must first understand what structuralism is. "Structuralism," as a linguistic theory, is that words "have to be seen in the context of the larger structure they are part of" (Beginning Theory by Peter Barry). This means that a word is only a word because of the words that surround it, thus "structuralism."

1. Saussure stated that the meanings we give to words are arbitrary. The physicality, or structure of a word, holds no bearing to its connotation nor denotation. (The only exceptions may be onomatopoeia, however, because even these vary by language, it is not necessarily correct.)

2. Saussure stated that the meanings of words are relational. "No word can be defined in isolation from other words" (Barry). It is necessary to have other words frame a context to understand one word.

3. According to Saussure, there are no intrisic, or fixed meanings in words. If a group of people were asked to think of "dog," some people may mentally conjure a border collie, others a beagle, and others a labrador, etc. While these are all dogs, and would correctly fit under the category of "dog," this word would not accomplish simultaneous thought, or a fixed meaning.

4. And the fourth principle according to Saussure is that language constitues our world. Because language exists, thought exists (think 1984 and the removal of words from the dictionary). Because the word "freedom" exists, we understand the concept; however, if no such word existed, the thought would be vague or unclear, at the very least.