English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Ferdinand de Saussure's
Course in General Linguistics (1913)

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1) What is the distinction between "language" (langue) and "speech" (parole)? What is the relationship between an individual speaker and language?

2) What are the parts of the sign as de Saussure defines "sign"? What is the relationship between them?

3) How does de Saussure's theory of the sign differ from the common and older way of talking about signs?

4) Why is it difficult, according to de Saussure, to establish the precise "units" that a linguist must examine? How does he respond to this problem of delimitation?

5) What implications might positing "arbitrariness" as a characteristic of signs hold for the way we look at ourselves and the world around us?

6) Reflect on this general question after having read the excerpts: how, according to de Saussure, is it possible for "meaning" to be generated at all? If it isn't true that words or "sound-mages" refer directly and naturally to anchors (things) in the outside world, or even to the concepts in one's mind, then how does speech become meaningful? What is the basic principal that makes meaning possible?

7) What is, or will be, the province and mission of the science to be called semiology"?

*The reading selection is from Davis, Robert Con and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Literary and Cultural Studies. Fourth edition. New York: Longman, 1998. 265-79. The selection may differ somewhat, but these questions should be useful.