Ferdinand de Saussure

1857 - 1913
Bio on Wikipedia

Swiss linguist

His work was used by Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes as the basis for structuralism.

Saussure said that

  1. the meaning we give to a word is arbitrary
  2. the meaning of a word is relational (for example, hovel shed hut house mansion palace, or the example of the 8.25 Geneva to Paris express train), and
  3. language creates our world, instead of just labeling it.

Criticized by Christopher Ricks.

Saussure's work pertained to language and literature. The structuralist sought to apply his ideas broadly, to everything.

He used the terms langue and parole. Langue is the French word for "language" and here it means an entire system and structure of signs. Parole here means a specific expression that draws its meaning from the structure of the langue. Every language is a complete system, langue. The speech of an individual, parole, is the manifestation of the langue.