'How Can he be Saussure?' - Enumerate the central ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics and evaluate its influence on twentieth Century Linguistics

Essay by pelicanUniversity, Bachelor's February 2004

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How can he be Saussure?

Saussure emerges so uncertainly from the second-hand sauce that we have, that it often becomes hard to say precisely what it is he intends to say. He so clearly sets himself the task of setting up a new science, and with that a radically new terminology, and yet often falls short of the level of consistency on these matters one might wish for. We do not of course have his word that the views handed down to us are his precisely, and it is undoubtedly true that had he ever sat down to write this work he would have been forced to clarify his ideas into a more ordered system. He never did, however, and this is perhaps suggestive in itself of areas of uncertainty in his mind. What we have instead is the writings of linguisticians ever since debating how accurately his views are represented.

Although many trees have been sacrificed that critics might contribute their individual pennyworth here, it seems to me that it is hardly relevant. Saussure's relevance lies less in what he wanted to say than in what was said for him, and the Copernican repercussions that these statements had. Nonetheless it is worth bearing in mind as we look more closely at his principle ideas, that much of the confusion that has since arisen could probably have been avoided had the book had a more orthodox genesis. This is complicated for us by a further level of confusion over his expression of ideas rooted in, in an irony Saussure would undoubtedly have appreciated, the problems of translation. One of his fundamental starting points was the fact that if languages are not, and they aren't, nomenclatures, then direct and accurate translations are impossible. The classic example used by him...