Literature Study GuidesCourse In General Linguistics

Course in General Linguistics | Study Guide

Ferdinand de Saussure

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Ferdinand de Saussure

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At a Glance

Trained as a historical linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) spent his career considering the problems that plagued the discipline of linguistics, or the study of language. He developed a new framework for linguistics that hinged on the idea that it is the structure of linguistic systems, not their particulars or their contexts, that should be the object of linguistic inquiry. Noting that all linguistic systems are composed of signs, like many other cultural systems, Saussure proposed linguistics as a branch of a larger discipline of semiology (today called semiotics): the study of the nature and functioning of signs.

Saussure's ideas, published after his death as Course in General Linguistics, form the basis of modern linguistics. Course in General Linguistics is also the founding text of the structuralist movement, which dominated intellectual inquiry in fields such as literature, philosophy, and anthropology during the mid-20th century. Structuralists studied systems and the rules that allowed these systems to function without regard for meaning. Thus, Saussure's ideas have changed the way people think about language, cognition, and culture itself.

Perspective and Narrator

The Course in General Linguistics was developed from notes taken by university students who attended historical linguist Ferdinand de Saussure's (1857–1913) lectures at the University of Geneva. The first-person singular and plural narration captures the feeling of a professor speaking to his students.

About the Title

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) presented his pioneering conception of linguistics to his students at the University of Geneva between 1907 and 1911. After Saussure's death in 1913, his colleagues collaborated to produce the text of the course based on the notes students had taken during his lectures.


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