Ferdinand De Saussure

Biography of Ferdinand De Saussure

Ferdinand de Saussure (26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics.

One of his translators, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics (Oxford University), Roy Harris, summarized Saussure's contribution to linguistics and the study of language in the following way:

"Language is no longer regarded as peripheral to our grasp of the world we live in, but as central to it. Words are not mere vocal labels or communicational adjuncts superimposed upon an already given order of things. They are collective products of social interaction, essential instruments through which human beings constitute and articulate their world. This typically twentieth-century view of language has profoundly influenced developments throughout the whole range of human sciences. It is particularly marked in linguistics, philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology".

The fundamental dimensions of linguistic organization introduced by Saussure are still basic to many approaches to how the phenomenon of language can be approached, even though they have naturally been extended and refined considerably over time. Prague school linguist Jan Mukařovský wrote that Saussure's "discovery of the internal structure of the linguistic sign differentiated the sign both from mere acoustic "things" ... and from mental processes", and that in this development "new roads were thereby opened not only for linguistics, but also, in the future, for the theory of literature. Ruqaiya Hasan argues that "the impact of Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign has been such that modern linguists and their theories have since been positioned by reference to him: they are known as pre-Saussurean, Saussurean, anti-Saussurean, post-Saussurean, or non-Saussure".

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