[My method is] a science that studies the life of signs within society I shall call it semiology from the Greek semeion signs (Saussure)

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1 Week 12: 24 November Ferdinand de Saussure: Early Structuralism and Linguistics Reading: John Storey, Chapter 6: Structuralism and post-structuralism (first half of article only, pp ) John Hartley, Diachronic / Referent / Sign / Signification / Synchronic [My method is] a science that studies the life of signs within society I shall call it semiology from the Greek semeion signs (Saussure) The sign is the union of a form which signifies (signifier) and an idea signified (signified). Though we may speak as if they are separate entities, they only exist as components of the sign (which is) the central fact of language. (Jonathan Culler) Dogs bark. But the concept of dog cannot bark or bite. The language we speak does not simply reflect the material reality of the world; rather, by providing us with a conceptual map with which to impose a certain order on what we see and experience, the language we speak plays a significant role in shaping what constitutes for us the reality of the material world. (Storey) Meaning is produced, not through a one-to-one relation to things in the world, but by establishing difference. For example, mother has meaning in relation to father, daughter, and son, etc. (Storey) Key Concepts and themes 1) Words and Things: Is Their Relation Natural or Arbitrary? 2) The Fundamental Elements of Saussurean Semiotics 3) Levi-Strauss: Structural Anthropology and Myth First, let s have a quick overview of Structuralism Structuralism is a broadly applied method based on the theoretical work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure His lectures, from the turn of the 20 th c. became incredibly influential not just in his discipline of Linguistics but throughout the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences including Cultural Studies

2 It was taken up largely as an analytic, not an evaluative method i.e. how things work, as opposed to judging them In Cultural Studies it is applied to how cultural texts and practices which are studied like a language Some prominent structuralists Keep in mind that most of these people would not have necessarily called themselves structuralists Structuralism does not denote a formal school (or institution) like the Frankfurt School Claude Levi-Strauss (Anthropology) Louis Althusser (Marxist theory) Roland Barthes (Literary/Cultural Studies) Michel Foucault (Philosophy/History) strongly denied being a structuralist Jacques Lacan (Psychoanalysis) What connected them was a agreement that how we understand the world was largely dependent upon how we used language and how language functioned as a system 1) Words and Things: Is Their Relation Natural or Arbitrary? There is a debate dating back to Greek antiquity that helps us understand what was at stake with the founding of Structuralism millennia later In 360 BCE, Plato wrote Cratylus one of the earliest works of Classical philosophy to address the relationship b/n language and meaning Therein, Socrates is asked a key question by his students Cratylus and Hermogenes: Are the name of things a) natural (an intrinsic or essential relation to things), or, b) conventional (arbitrary)? In short: a) do words copy nature in a fundamentally natural relationship b) does culture arbitrarily assign words to things

3 Thus the debate breaks down into two positions a) Natural correlation b/n words and things b) Cultural assignation of words to things Cratylus believes in a): Everything has a right name of its own, which comes by nature the form and meaning of a word are inextricably related. Hermogenes believes in b): Any name which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old no r/n between a name's form and its meaning words are correct merely by convention and agreement not determined by nature, nor is one name for a thing more correct than another Hermogenes could be considered a proto-saussurean the relationship b/n words and things it is a matter of custom and convention For Plato, however, this is not the case. Plato and Socrates: The name of things are given in advance (a priori) by nature abstract ideas actually exist in nature language is bestowed upon us by nature hence a natural framework thus it closely approximates the ideal forms given to us by nature an accurate representation Plato and Socrates, then, argue in favour of rational, universal truths Socrates, in the dialogue, warns Hermogenes that his position blurs the line b/n truth and falsehood (a true name ) However, for Aristotle, who came after Socrates, it was Hermogenes who was right: there can be no natural connection between the sound of any language and the things signified

4 2) The Fundamental Elements of Semiotics In order to understand the broader implications of semiotics and structuralism especially on the discipline of Cultural Studies we must first identify its component parts. This approach replicates the new methodological orientation Saussure brought to linguistics That is, first identify the elemental components of language and the logic of their internal r/n then examining how that overall structure changes or influences other fields. The fundamental elements are as follows: a) Diachronic; b) Synchronic; c) Referent; d) Sign; e) Signifier (denotative); f) Signified (connotative); g) Signification; h) Langue; i) Parole a) Diachronic the study of a system over time traditionally, language was studied via changes in systems of meaning over time this is called diachronic linguistics, or, philology thus it was concerned with the origins of language and how language changed over time i.e. tracing changes in the meaning of individual words from their origin in a source language (like Latin) C.F. Williams Keywords Saussure s main contribution to the study of language (linguistics) was to break away from diachronic linguistics to synchronic linguistics he felt we should first understand the overall shape of language before studying its change over time Saussure developed a relational theory of language Remember the chess board metaphor b) Synchronic the study of language at a given moment the structure of language hence structuralism

5 Saussure focused on the internal relations of the structured whole of language an abstract, not empirical approach to the study of language his argument was that people had become so bogged down in the empirical fact of particular languages and their word-stores (philology) that there was no developed theory of language-ingeneral from which to make sense of the empirical data. (Hartley) synchronic linguistics became the norm over the 20 th c. the structuralist method that it founded spread to many other disciplines, including the study of culture and cultural texts The basics of this synchronic approach is the isolation of elements (signs) and their internal r/nship w/n an abstract system (codes) of different sign systems c) Referent what the sign stands for it can be an object, condition, or event it is part of the linguistic signifying system, not the inherent property of that externally existing thing not an important concept for Saussure; used by later semioticians like C.S. Pierce d) Sign (word/symbol and its meaning) anything i.e. words, pictures, sounds, gestures that stands for something else in the production of meaning a core concept of semiotics i.e. the red rose + love All signs must have physical form; refer to something other than itself; and, be understandable A sign has two components: signifier and signified All signs have an arbitrary r/n to both a) signifier (the thing to which it refers); and b) signified (the concept it represents) e) Signifier the material thing represented by the sign i.e. the red rose the flower itself this is the denotative level The signifier denotes

6 Denotation is the literal meaning of something the surface level What is denoted is the thing itself f) Signified the concept referred to by the signifier i.e. the red rose signifies love this is the connotative level The signified connotes Connotation refers to the ideas or feelings that the sign signifies a deeper level of meaning What is connoted is the meaning of the thing itself N.B. There is always the possibility that a given signifier has multiple signifieds (i.e. many different meanings) For example, in England, the red rose also signifies the Labour Party This multiple meaning is often called polysemy g) Signification the output of signs communication itself a concept of importance to Barthes he organizes signification into three levels: 1) denotative (a tree); 2) connotative (tree connotes nature); 3) mythical (nature is bountiful) h) Langue (the language system) the structure of speaking the rules and codes the underlying abstract system of signs and conventions Saussure was interested in the structure of speaking, more than the act of speaking (parole) this can be extended to the study of culture e.g. the patterns or social organization of fashion would be its langue It is langue which Saussure subjects to synchronic analysis, as he was concerned with the deep structure of language

7 i) Parole (speech) the act of speaking it is full of variable and accidental aspect messy, as Sabina would say because it is riven with individual variations, it is more difficult to systematize or submit to structural analysis how we collectively implement linguistic structures it also helps us realize how we may influence language thru. our particular usage and if we extend this to the study of culture, we could isolate a single piece of clothing as an individual instance of parole The chess metaphor: langue is the rules of the game; parole is an actual match In short, langue is structure; parole is performance like structure and agency Meaning as arbitrary? There is no essential correspondence b/n signifiers and signifieds Linguistic system work by marking difference, not expressing a natural meaning Do not get confused by the arbitrary r/n b/n the signifier and signified This arbitrary aspect refers to two things: i) that meaning is relational, not essential ii) the impossibility of a single, universal fixed meaning with which everyone, everywhere would agree The whole point about culture (and systems of representation) is that it always tries to fix meaning On an everyday level, we operate in a realm of relatively fixed meaning However, this only comes about thru. linguistic and cultural codes, and, power r/ns (hegemony, ideology, myth, etc.) Thus meaning gets fixed, but never permanently it always remains open to contestation

8 3) Levi-Strauss Structural Anthropology Claude Levi-Strauss an anthropologist who used Saussure to discover an unconscious foundation of the culture of so-called primitive societies he examined cultural practices (cooking, manners, dress, etc.) like a language he studied the langue (structure) of a culture by examining variations in its parole (practice) He also studied myth, and that despite the wide variation on the parole of myth, there is a common langue For Levi-Strauss, myths operate like a language Components of myths only take on meaning when combined in particular patterns e.g. culture/nature; man/woman; black/white; good/bad; us/them Thus meaning results only thru. this interplay of similarity and difference to say what is bad we must have some sense of what is good mythical thought always progresses form the awareness of oppositions toward their resolution The purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction. (Levi-Strauss) In short, myth helps to banish contradiction and make the world understandable

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