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Ferdinand de Saussure

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'''Ferdinand de Saussure''' (November 26, 1857 – [[February 22]], [[1913]]) was a [[Switzerland|Swiss]] [[linguist]], considered by many to be the father of [[structuralism]].
Born in [[Geneva]], he laid the foundation for many developments in [[linguistics]] in the [[20th century]]. He perceived linguistics as a branch of a general [[science]] of signs he proposed to call ''semiology'' (now generally known as [[semiotics]]).
==Language=Life and Work:===Saussure was born in Geneva to a family known for its scholastic achievement. Relatively little is known about his life apart from his academic pursuits, where his interest and ability in linguistics were recognized early. His first professional essay was written at fourteen, a response to the works of the paleontologist Pictet, a family friend . Before starting his graduate work at the University of [[Leipzig]] in 1876 (at nineteen), Saussure had taught himself [[Sanskrit]], attended a year of courses at the University of Geneva, submitted various articles for publication and joined the Société de linguistique de Paris. This would suggest he was a well-prepared and largely self-taught teen prodigy by the time he arrived at Leipzig. The German academic community was undergoing violent disagreements about language at this time; the advent of the [[Comparative Method]] in the late nineteenth century made it possible to reconstruct the history of certain parent languages and scholars were reexamining all elements of their field. However, it did not succeed in establishing the next wave of linguistics which Saussure would dominate because it did not pursue the nature of its object of study, that nature is to be found in more than the elemental words of which a language consists; it speaks to the formal relations between those components. The [[Neogrammarians]], who led the emergent school of linguistic thought at Leipzig, embraced the Comparative Method. While Saussure would work under them as a student, he would eventually break with their teachings. In 1878 Saussure spent a year studying at [[Berlin]]. At twenty-one he wrote four articles plus a 300-page monograph: ''Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européenes''. This would be the only full-length book published by him in his lifetime. The Mémoire was revolutionary and considered ingenious by many, although some of his mentors and peers at Leipzig were highly dismissive of its individuality. It did, however, establish his reputation and provide the foundation of his work on the ''Cours de linguistique générale''. After the Mémoire, Saussure returned to Leipzig to finish his dissertation, which was submitted in 1880; he received his doctorate and the thesis was published in 1881. In 1880 he moved to [[Paris]] and became a senior lecturer at l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. There he taught Gothic and [[Old High German]], Sanskrit, [[Latin]], [[Persian language|Persian]] and [[Lithuanian language|Lithuanian]]. When he arrived in Paris, the graduate education system was transforming at a magnificent rate. There was much enthusiasm – especially in language and linguistics. Two strands of linguistics vied for prominence: that anchored at the [[Sorbonne]], which published in Revue de linguistique et philologie comparée, and that led by Michel Brèal, which published in Société de linguistique de Paris. Saussure followed Brèal's group. French psychologists and sociologists were also making great strides in the study of the workings of the mind and the nature of consciousness and unconsciousness, which held great potential for linguistic scientists. Saussure studied the work of [[Broca]], [[Wernicke]], [[Bergson]], [[Carl_Jung|Jung]], [[Max_Weber|Weber]], and [[Durkheim]] with interest, and applied it to his own.  However, over the years, Saussure became ever more obsessed with the idea of plagiarism, for fear of inadvertently incorporating the theories of one of his colleagues into his own research. He thereafter increasingly isolated himself. In reviewing the work being done in linguistics at this time, we find that many of the concepts that would appear in Saussure's Cours were already in development by other scholars, but not to the same degree or in the same manner. What was original about his concepts was his approach, his use of terminology and his incorporation of sociology, anthropology and philosophy. Saussure returned to Geneva in 1891 and became a professor at the University. He was to teach there for the rest of his life. He began by giving courses in Sanskrit and Indo-European languages as well as historical and comparative linguistics. Only after a colleague died in 1906 did he add general linguistics; this would lead to the development of his famous three courses. As his curiosity and the complexity of his research increased, his published output decreased. In the last fifteen years of his life he produced only three papers. After 1906 the majority of his academic energy went into his series, ''Cours de linguistique générale''. He approached these courses from three directions, without using any course notes.
Saussure's systematic reexamination of language is based on four assumptions:
* The eastern European/Russian or [[Formalist]] school, centered in the Prague Linguistic Circle, led by Roman Jakobson and heavily influenced by the works of Saussure,
* The North American school, led by [[Leonard Bloomfield]], who synthesized and systematized Saussure's insights, introducing his own modifications and discoveries. The Neo-Bloomfieldians (including Chomsky's teacher, [[Zellig Harris]]) subsequently formalized Saussure's theory, reducing its scope and the social nature of its explanations, paving the way for the autonomous syntactic formalism of [[Noam Chomsky]], who began discussing Saussure in remarks made at the 1962 International Congress of Linguists and in papers thereafter. While Chomsky did not fully agree with many of Saussure's theories, he did find certain commonalities between his own concepts and those of the Swiss linguist.
Russian Formalism (starting in 1916) was borne out of an intense interest in language. Roman Jakobson was integral to its development. Jakobson recognized the value of Saussure's theories to Russian language because of the application of Marxism and the worth accorded to literature in Russian society as a means of moral and social criticism. During World War II, Jakobson emigrated to the U.S. and brought his passion for Saussure with him. He founded the New York Circle and a new Journal ("Word") and presented a series of lectures and articles on the Cours. He also began to encourage North American comprehension and acceptance of Saussure that would finally take root in the 50's and 60's as a more open climate between the North American and European academic communities was actualized.
Meanwhile, in France, as experiments with applications of Saussure's theories to more branches of the social and human sciences and philosophy were tested, there were misunderstandings over the relationship between his teachings and the development of structuralism. The question of who really could be identified as the rightful "father" of the system was argued, and elements of the originality of Saussure's Cours were challenged. When Lacan attempted to reconfigure Saussure's signifier/signified algorithm for psychoanalitic purposes, it was dismissed by many as being too focused on the study of psychosis and the unconscious to provide real linguistic value. Had Saussure's work been overdetermined by too many theorists who were too eager to test its boundaries, only to discover that the system in fact had limits - that the model could not be applied infinitely?
While the early mania for Saussure has cooled somewhat, and the contributions of other scientists to twentieth-century linguistics are now rightfully recognized, it is important that we also acknowledge Saussure for his incredible achievements. He always said he would never publish any reflections on the 'essence' of linguistics, and yet we look to his Cours as his life's work – in a sense, a sign for him. If anything, Saussure had only identified the foundations of his work, and the Cours might have been viewed as one facet of that, rather than its whole. The key may lie in his famous challenge for scientists to pursue a new discipline: "By studying rites, customs, etc. as signs, I believe that we shall throw new light on the facts and point up the need for including them in a science of semiology and explaining them by its laws." (''Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism'', 962)
*(1878). Essai d'une distinction des différents a indo-européens. ''Memoires de la Société de linguistique'', 3:359-70.
*(1879). ''Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes''. Leipzig: Teubner.
*(1908). ''Mélanges de linguistique offerts à M. Ferdinand de Saussure'' (no eds.). Paris: Champion.
*(1909). ''Interview with A. Riedlinger'', [[19 January]] [[1909]]. In Godel, 1957/1969a.
*(1916). ''Cours de linguistique générale'' (published by C. Bally and A. Sechehaye in collaboration with A. Riedlinger). Lausanne and Paris: Payot. (CLG)
*(1922). ''Recueil des publications scientifiques''. Geneva: Editions Sonor.
Godel, R. (1957). ''Les sources manuscrites du Cours de linguistique générale de F. de
Saussure'' (Société de publications romanes et françaises, 61). Geneva: Droz; Paris:
*(1957). Cours de linguistique générale Cours II 1908-1909: introduction (d'aprés des notes
d'etudiants) (ed. R. Godel). ''Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure'', 15: 3-103.
Godel, R. (1958/9). Nouveaux documents saussuriens: les cahiers E. Constantin. ''Cahiers
Ferdinand de Saussure'', 16: 23, 32.
*(1959). ''Course in General Linguistics'' (trans. W. Baskin). New York: Philosophical
Library. (CGL-B)
*(1960). Souvenirs de F. de Saussure concernant sa jeunesse et ses études (ed. R. Godel).
''Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure'', 17: 12-26.
Benveniste, E. (1964). Lettre de Ferdinand de Saussure a Antoine Meillet. Cahiers
Ferdinand de Saussure, 21:91-130.
*(1964/5). Notes et documents sur Ferdinand de Saussure (1880-1891) (présentées par
Michel Fleury). Annuaire de l'Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, 35-67.
*(1968). ''Cours de linguistique générale'' (critical edition by R. Engler, vol. 1). Wiesbaden:
Harrassowitz. (CLG/E 2)
*(1972 [1916]). ''Cours de linguistique génrale (ed. T. de Mauro). Paris: Payot. (CLG/D)
*(1974). ''Cours de linguistique générale'' (Notes personnelles) (critical edition by R. Engler,
vol. 2). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. (CLG/E 2)
*(1974 [1959]). ''Course in General Linguistics'' (trans. W. Baskin, with an introduction by
J. Culler). London: Peter Own. (CGL-B)
*(1978). Essai pour réduire les mots du grec, du latin et de l'allemand à un petit nombre de
racines (ed. B. Davies). ''Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure'', 32: 73-101.
*(1979). ''Saggio sul vocalisimo indoeuropeo'' (Italian edition, introd., trans. and ed. G.C.
Vincenzi). Bologna: Libreria Universitaria Editrice.
*(1983). ''Course in General Linguistics'' (trans. and annotated by R. Harris). London:
Duckworth. (CGL-H)
*(1993). ''Troisiéme Cours de linguistique générale / Third Course in General Linguistics (1910-1911), d'après les cahiers d'Emile Constantin'' (ed. and trans. E. Komatsu
and R. Harris). Oxford: Pergamon.
*(1994). [Letter dated September 1912 to Bally]. ''Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure'', 48: 132.
*(1996). ''Premier Cours de linguistique générale / First Course in General Linguistics
(1907), d'après les cahiers d'Albert Riedlinger'' (ed. and trans. E. Komatsu and G.
Wolf). Oxford: Pergamon.
*(1997). ''Deuxième Cours de linguistique générale / Second Course in General linguistics
(1908-1909), d'après les cahiers d'Albert Riedlinger & Charler Patois'' (ed. and trans.
E. Komatsu and G. Wolf). Oxford: Pergamon.
*(2002). ''Ecrits de linguistiques générale'' (ed. S. Bouquet and R. Engler). Paris: Gallimard.
* [[Structuralism]]
* [[Semiotics]]
* [[Formalism]]
* [[Roman Jakobson]]
* [[Claude Lévi-Strauss]]
* [[Julia Kristéva]]
* [[Jacques Derrida]]
* [[Leonard Bloomfield]]
* [[Noam Chomsky]]
* [[Michael Silverstein]]
* [[Edward Titchener]]
==External links==
*[ Hearing Heidegger and Saussure, by Elmer G. Wiens]
*''The Cambridge Companion to Saussure''. ed. Carol Sanders. Cambridge: Cambridge U P. 2004.
*Harris, Roy. ''Saussure and his Interpreterers''. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh U P. 2003.
*Klage, Mary. "Structuralism and Saussure." Introduction to Literary Theory course. University of Colorado at Boulder. (c) 2001. <>([[February 7]] [[2006]]).
*The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: WW Norton & Co. 2001. 956-77.
*Gabriel Rupp and Ronald Schleifer. "Ferdinand de Saussure".''Johns Hopkins Online Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism''. ed. Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P. (c)2005.([[February 1]] [[2006]]).
[[Category:1857 births|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:1913 deaths|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Linguists|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Swiss linguists|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Indo-Europeanists|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Structuralism|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Natives of Geneva|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Semioticians|Saussure, Ferdinand de]]
[[Category:Literary Critics]]

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