Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Signs of the Times ? ! ?

“Some people regard language, when reduced to its elements, as a naming-process only – a list of words, each corresponding to the thing that it names . . . The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image.”

“The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. Since I mean by sign the whole that results from the associating of the signifier with the signified, I can simple say: the linguistic sign is arbitrary.”

“The word arbitrary . . . should not imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker (we shall see below that the individual does not have the power to change a sign in any way once it has become established in the linguistic community); I mean that it is unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified.

“No matter what period we choose or how far back we go, language always appears as a heritage of the preceding period. We might conceive of an act by which, at a given moment, names were assigned to things and a contract was formed between concepts and sound-images; but such an act has never been recorded . . . the question of the origin of speech is not so important as it is generally assumed to be. The question is not even worth asking . . .”

“in language . . . everyone participates at all times, and that is why it is constantly being influenced by all. This capital fact suffices to show the impossibility of revolution. Of all social institutions, language is the least amenable to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert by nature, is a prime conservative force.”

“Because the sign is arbitrary, it follows no law other than tradition, and because it is based on tradition, it is arbitrary.”

(Ferdinand de Saussure, "Nature of the Linguistic Sign")

No comments: