What to do with signs?

What to do with signs? Same thing you, as creative writers, do with words (for words are signs, after all). But doing something with words/signs may not be easy as some of you think. Not after the “linguistic break,” anyway.saussure.jpgThis linguistic break occurred sometime in 1915 when two students of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, posthumously published in book form his lectures under the title: Course in General Linguistics. This book had a great influence among the Russian Formalists and, later on, the French Structuralists. This linguistic break (or “linguistic turn,” for some) came about because of scholars’ interest in the then new science of linguistics (and semiology/semiotics) — especially in how it could be used to study other nonlinguistic phenomena.

Saussure located language and/or linguistics — with its meaning-making potential — under semiology. Saussure defined semiology and pointed to the fact that:

It is . . . possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, or”sign”). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge. (1983: 15-16)

In his study of the nature of signs, Saussure categorized language (his chosen subject for study) into langue and parole. Daniel Chandler defines it this way: “langue [language system] refers to the system of rules and conventions which is independent of, and preexists, individual users; parole [speech] refers to its use in particular instances. Applying the notion to semiotic systems in general rather than simply to language, the distinction is one between code and message, structure and event or system and usage (in specific texts or contexts).”

Explore posts in the same categories: 1.4 Structuralism, 1.4.1 Saussurean linguisitcs

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4 Comments on “What to do with signs?”


  1. Friend,

    I am an avocational student of languages– rather of the sociology-of-language/sociolinguistics– and follow developments in semiotics– as defined by Charles S. Peirce (even before the publication of the Saussure book.) By making “(linguistic) and (linguistics)” a feed from Google, I get the great opportunity to follow occurrences in Web-sites like yours. This keeps me informed about your disciplines. (My background is in clinical social work: I have a fascination for the disordered language– word-salad, loose-association, flight-of-ideas, and the like in mental patients– as well as the language-usage by the general society– words almost “delusional” at times from normal people– witnessed so well by Irving Goffman et al. )
    So thank you for this informative entry. Piece by laborious piece, I am getting an idea of what linguists/students-of-language are discussing in their circles, without getting the bothersome, “Take my course! Major in linguistics!” when I am simply trying to find out “the wheat from the chaff” regarding language problems “over here in the clinical situation where I live.”
    –Vernon Lynn Stephens, M.S.S.W.
    D.S.M. IV # 350
    F31.2

  2. nino Says:

    nice to know other people — aside from my students — find this site useful. thanks for passing by.🙂

  3. saikow Says:

    sir, i cant write this on my blog…

    I was born, the only son of a military man and a city health nurse, in one of Cotabato City’s private hospitals.

    I grew up in a normal Filipino neighborhood: playing with plastic soldiers on dirty afternoon streets, walking inside canals looking for small fishes to put in used ice cream cans, and masturbating behind a giant ilang-ilang tree on our back “forest”.

    For the first years of my schooling life, I was sent to a private school. There, I met other children but I chose to play with my miniature cars alone.

    Due to some conflicts which I never really cared about, my family and I were sent to Davao City.

    I was shocked in my first months in the said city.

    “My God, they have traffic lights and overpasses!”

    Soon after, I was sent to Ateneo to finish my primary education.

    It was as if nothing really changed in me. I still chose to play alone in solitary benches, eat with my family at home, go to comfort rooms on free times and beat the hell out of my “little friend”.

    But, I did sense a change in the environment, in other children. I noticed that some of them are really concerned with how faster they finished a level in “Doom”, or if their “daddies” bought them new action figures, or how their “mommies” promised to bring them to Hongkong or China or some other place.

    I never really thought about those things. I was too busy drawing, reading “Archie” comics, or fantasizing about my teacher. But, dont get me wrong, I also wanted to buy toys. I asked for “Legos”, “G.I. Joes”, “water pistols”, and “fake blood”. But, I was raised as a child who always agreed when my parents told me “… next time nalang, anak…” And I’d run along and pass my time staring at the slits on the skirts of Dream World’s salesladies.

    I enjoyed eating pancakes on hot afternoons outside City Hall with my mother. Both of us waited for my father to finish work there. When he comes out, we would go home and eat dinner. And if it was a special occasion, we would go to Jollibee and I’d order something with a free toy.

    Those days, I already noticed that my parents talked about work on travels from wherever to our rented house or viceversa. In those talks, I had a sense of what political power was.

    “Kumusta na si Mayor?” “Anong ginawa ni Mayor?” “Kinausap ako ni Mayor kanina.”

    This “Mayor” HAD to be one powerful man to actually be the topic of my father’s conversations. It was as if we OWED him something. I never really cared that much, staring outside the window thinking of how I’d do “it” with Ma’am [place-name-of-hot-teacher-here] on the passing land scapes – waiting sheds, nipa huts, grass lands, etc.

    I got my share of discovering Davao in those days. We always moved. My parents really didn’t have much money to buy a house, we always rented, always moved, always. From a haunted house in Matina to a hose-showered one in Ecoland, from two other houses in Ecoland to a compound with a sari-sari store in Bangkal. I never really cared.

    I never really knew why we moved around much. I just thought that my parents were “laagan”. Well, I did because I always thought they both got payed millions because lives depended on them. [Without military men, people would die. Without nurses, people would die.] Heck, even until now, I dont really know how much money they make.

    During my high-school days, well, nothing really happened. I just got my first girlfriend.

    She was a type of social climber. She always had the latest cell phone, new accessories, and shit. She lived in a house with VERY little furniture.

    I never really cared that much on how she perceived life as one “plasic party for those with money.” I just wanted the pussy.

    I payed for taxis, dinners, movies, etc.

    She left me for a Manila boy. That bitch.

    When I graduated high school, I wanted to become a web-designer. I wanted to design porn sites so I’d have instant access to the most boobalicious .jpgs. That’s why I took up ComSci.

    Didn’t take long before I realized that ComSci was more like ComMath. I left it, and pursued a course in the arts, which brings me to BAE.

    Why BAE? Well, why not?

    Pornography comes in MANY forms, one would be in literotica. I wanted to make the most orgasmatronic literary pieces in the whole wide world! I wanted to make poems that would make little girls “shudder in their loins” with the mere mention of a given line from my poem. I wanted to make men weep with stories of how great I am in bed, far better than what they could ever DREAM to be. I wanted to be famous!

    I also wanted to share the pain of my break up with the “Super Bitch Queen from Hell” and make money with what I wanted to do, write porn.

    I never really wanted to use people, unless, of course, it involved a dozen of naked super-sexy school girls. I never really wanted to own haciendas, unless, of course, it included a community of super-hot chinita babes. I never really wanted to own everything. I just wanted to have enough luxuries – time, unlimited smokes and alcohol, sex, musical instruments. That’s it.

    I never really liked having that many people around, unless, of course, they’re a bunch of horny girls who want to fuck my brains out. That’s why I could never imagine leading/using them.

    So, now, I’m just chillin’. Enjoying the little that my status can provide – Winston, Tanduay, pirated CDs, ripped porn from torrents.

    I’m one blind slave to this economic orgy. Wait, did I just say that I’m part of an orgy? Well, as long as no graying, old, fat guy’s taking me from behind, I’m fine with it.

    Marx is going to kill me AGAIN when I die.

  4. saikow Says:

    yes, sir… feminists will kill me


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