Course in General LinguisticsMarch 3rd, 2012 by Theodora Vardouli
This week we will shift gears to discuss an excerpt from perhaps one of the most influential texts in the western intellectual history of the past century: Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in general linguistics.
The book is based on notes from Saussure’s lectures in the University of Geneva (1906-1911) and was edited by Saussure’s students Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye after his death.
Three reasons why I think this reading is exciting:
- It is the point 0 for semiology and structuralism. You will find yourselves reading phrases such as “A science that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable [...] I shall call it semiology (from Greek semeion “sign”)”;
- It articulates the fascinating concepts of synchronic and diachronic linguistics;
- It discusses ontology and compartmentalization, symbols, signs and formalism;
And of course there is bitter irony involved: Saussure only taught the course three times and died having no clue about the influence of his Course on Levi Strauss, Lacan, Althusser and many others who changed the history of anthropology, psychology and philosophy.