"But what is language [langue]? It is not to be confused with human speech…Taken as a whole, speech is many-sided and heterogeneous; straddling several areas simultaneously - physical, physiological and psychological—it belongs both to the individual and to society; we cannot put it into any category of human facts, for we cannot discover its unity.

Language, on the contrary, is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. As soon as we give language first place among the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that lends itself to no other classification."

- Ferdinand de Saussure

Wall Street Journal, Pep Montserrat











Beyonce, Formation, 2016.
Miley Cyrus, We Can't Stop, 2013.











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












"HAT" or h-a-t = signifier/ acoustic image
concept = a shaped covering for the head worn for warmth, as a fashion item, or as part of a uniform.
< photo of the hat = signified/ concept of hatness (can you feel it?)
< photo of the hat = representation = signifier or the concept of hat












Rene Magritte, The Pilgrim, 1966.
Photo of Magritte with, The Pilgrim











Saussure's First Principle
Linguistic form is ontologically arbitrary.
In other words, the relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary.
No logical reason why a hat is called a "hat."
This becomes apparent when we understand that different groups call a hat differently:
"sombrero," "chapeau," "cappelo," "Hut," "??"
Meaning is based on cultural agreement
We agree to share the same sign system because it's to our benefit
Saussure's notebook












While meaning is not intrinsic or essential, Saussure is adament that language is not simply nomenclature.
nomenclature = a list of signs with a corresponding list of things
Saussure saw this as naive, believing instead that ideas already exist independently of words.











Saussure's point argues that some dude named Adam didn't just sit down and name everything.
And, language is not just a collection of names for things.
Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, 1508 - 1512.






















While the relationships between signifiers and signfieds are ontologically arbitrary (which means that it would not make any difference to the status of these entites in "the order of things" if what we call "black" has always been white, and vice-versa), this is NOT to suggest that signifying systems are socially or historically arbitrary. Nor does being arbitrary mean being socially neutral (as in Western culture "white" has come to be a priveledged but "invisible signifer"). -Daniel Chandler
"Indeed, it is because the linguistic sign is arbitrary that it knows no other laws than tradition, and it is because it is founded on tradition, that it can be arbitrary. " - Sausssure
Rene Magritte, The Masterpiece of the Mysteries of the Horizon, 1955.












There's glory for you!' said Humpty Dumpty.

I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'






















Saussure's Second Principle
The linguistic system is linear.











A linguistic sign is not a link between a thing and a name.
Instead, the linguistic sign is a link between a concept and a sound pattern.

Psychological and Sound Waves as Imagined by Saussure











Because the linguistic system is linear, it is unchangeble.
Here is the paradox: The language is free to set up a relationship between any sound and any sequence of sounds and any idea. However, once the link is made, neither an individual speaker nor a whole community of speakers is free to undo it.










However.... over time, the linguistic sign IS changeable.












It is possible to study linguistic meaning at a point in time, or as it develops over time
synchronic - one point in time
diachronic - different points in time
Chess is a "synchronic game;" you can pick up the game at any point, and it doesn't matter what prior moves have been made.










shit (v.)
O.E. scitan, from P.Gmc. *skit-, from PIE *skheid- "split, divide, separate." Related to shed (v.) on the notion of "separation" from the body (cf. L. excrementum, from excernere "to separate"). It is thus a cousin to science and conscience. The noun is O.E. scitte "purging;" sense of "excrement" dates from 1580s, from the verb. Despite what you read in an e-mail, "shit" is not an acronym. The notion that it is a recent word may be because the word was taboo from c.1600 and rarely appeared in print (neither Shakespeare nor the KJV has it), and even in "vulgar" publications of the late 18c. it is disguised by dashes. It drew the wrath of censors as late as 1922 ("Ulysses" and "The Enormous Room"), scandalized magazine subscribers in 1957 (a Hemingway story in "Atlantic Monthly") and was omitted from some dictionaries as recently as 1970 ("Webster's New World"). Extensive slang usage; verb meaning "to lie, to tease" is from 1934; that of "to disrespect" is from 1903. Noun use for "obnoxious person" is since at least 1508; meaning "misfortune, trouble" is attested from 1937. Shat is a humorous past tense form, not etymological, first recorded 18c. Shite, now a jocular or slightly euphemistic variant, formerly a dialectal variant, reflects the vowel in the O.E. verb (cf. Ger. scheissen). Shit-faced "drunk" is 1960s student slang; shit list is from 1942. To not give a shit "not care" is from 1922; up shit creek "in trouble" is from 1937. To shit bricks “be very frightened” attested by 1961. The connection between fear and involuntary defecation has generated expressions since 14c., and probably also is behind scared shitless (1936).

The expression [the shit hits the fan] is related to, and may well derive from, an old joke. A man in a crowded bar needed to defecate but couldn't find a bathroom, so he went upstairs and used a hole in the floor. Returning, he found everyone had gone except the bartender, who was cowering behind the bar. When the man asked what had happened, the bartender replied, 'Where were you when the shit hit the fan?' [Hugh Rawson, "Wicked Words," 1989]

Chris Offili, Shithead, 1993.