Saussure and the Sign
"Everyone, left to his own devices, forms an idea about what goes on in language which is very far from the truth."
- Ferdinand de Saussure











Ferdinand de Saussure
1857 - 1913
  • After earning his doctorate in 1880, became an academic
    • Famously lectured on Sanskrit and Indo-European at the University of Geneva from 1891 - 1911
    • Super uptight about publishing his ideas
  • 1907 began teaching Course in General Linguistics
  • Died in 1913
  • Several of his students, using their notes, published his lectures posthumously in 1916


  • The ideas laid out in the Course in General Linguistics are a cornerstone to our understanding of signs and the mechanics of language
Ferdinand de Saussure











What is a sign?












Anything that tells us about something other than itself, is a sign.











Everything is a sign.












According to Sassure, language is a self contained "sign system" within which everything obtains its meaning from being part of that system and the relationship to that system.
Saussure named the science of signs, "semiology."
a.k.a. semiotics = the study of signs and symbols, their use and interpretation











The linguistic sign does not link a name and a thing, but a concept and an "acoustic image."
the linguistic sign = signifier + signified
signifier = sound, image, or an object
signified = the concept produced in the brain upon seeing or hearing a signifier