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.This 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).”