Ferdinand de Saussure
The sign is constituted by two elements:
- a conceptual element (which Saussure calls the signified), and
- a phonological element (called the signifier).
The two elements are linked by an arbitrary but unbreakable bond.
Relation between Signifier and Signified
Firstly, whereas Saussure posited the reciprocal implication between signifier and signified (they are as mutually interdependent as two sides of a sheet of paper), Lacan argues that the relation between signifier and signified is extremely unstable.
Primacy of the Signifier
To illustrate the contrast between his own views and those of Saussure, Lacan replaces Saussure's diagram of the sign with an algorithm which, Lacan argues, should be attributed to Saussure -- and is thus now sometimes referred to as the "Saussurean algorithm."
The S stands for the signifier, and the s for the signified; the position of the signified and the signifier is thus inverted, showing the primacy of the signifier (which is capitalized, whereas the signifier is reduced to mere lower-case italic).
- Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1916) Course in General Linguistics, ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, trans. Wade Baskin, Glasgow: Collins Fontana. p.114
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.149
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.163