Saussure and his Interpreters

Saussure and his Interpreters

Roy Harris
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Saussure and his Interpreters
    Book Description:

    This book is the first major reassessment of the reception of Saussure's ideas throughout the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7954-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
    R. H.
  4. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
    R. H.
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Interpreting the Interpreters
    (pp. 1-14)

    No one writing about Saussure today needs to take on the task of establishing the historical importance of Saussurean ideas; for that has already been established beyond question and many times over. Saussure’s influence, direct and indirect, dominates the twentieth-century development of those academic disciplines devoted to the study of language, languages and the analysis of texts. It has also been widespread in disciplines in which Saussure himself laid no claim to personal expertise: these include anthropology, sociology and psychology. However, whether what pass for Saussurean ideas in these various areas are always authentically Saussure’s is another question and a...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Students’ Saussure
    (pp. 15-30)

    At one point in his notes on Saussure’s First Course (CLG1: 65), Albert Riedlinger added in pencil: ‘Je vois que tout le monde, au cours, avait compris comme moi, même Caille qui stênographiait!’ The note confirms what we know from other sources: that Saussure’s students were assiduous and conscientious note-takers, often checking with one another after the class, particularly on points where there was any doubt about their understanding of what Saussure had said (Engler: xii).

    The point Riedlinger was querying in this instance is particularly significant. Here, for the first time, Saussure gives an explanation of his distinction between...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Editors’ Saussure
    (pp. 31-58)

    Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye were themselves the first to raise doubts about their own interpretation of Saussure’s linguistic theorizing. As colleagues and close associates of Saussure, they were in the best possible position to understand Saussure’s views on language. They had not, however, attended in person the three courses on general linguistics that Saussure gave from 1907 to 1911. Some aspects of what they discovered on reading his students’ notes evidently took them by surprise or left them puzzled. This tension (between what they might have expected Saussure to say and what — according to his most recent students — Saussure...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Bloomfield’s Saussure
    (pp. 59-75)

    Leonard Bloomfield, eventually to become the most influential figure in American linguistics in the first half of the twentieth century, agreed that the CLG had ‘given us the theoretical basis for a science of human speech’. Evidently, however, he found it rather difficult to detect much originality in Saussure’s thinking at all; at least, to judge by the review of the second edition of the CLG that he published in the Modern Language Journal (Bloomfield 1923). For there he asserts: ‘Most of what the author [sc. of the CLG] says has long been “in the air” ’. Saussure’s contribution, according...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Hjelmslev’s Saussure
    (pp. 76-93)

    Hjelmslev’s theory of glossematics, developed during the mid 1930s with H. J. Uldall, has been described as ‘de Saussure taken to his logical conclusions’ (Dinneen 1967: 326). To what extent that involved pressing Saussurean ideas beyond the point to which Saussure himself would have taken them, had he lived to put his own linguistic theorizing in a definitive published form, remains a contentious issue. Just how contentious is best illustrated by examining Hjelmslev’s interpretation — or reinterpretation — of Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole.

    This distinction, according to Hjelmslev, represents Saussure’s teaching ‘ramenée à son essence absolue’ (Hjelmslev 1942: 29). Furthermore:...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Jakobson’s Saussure
    (pp. 94-108)

    The global itinerary of Roman Jakobson’s long academic career, which eventually took him from Moscow to Harvard, via Prague and Scandinavia, made him one of the most influential disseminators of ideas about Saussure for a period of some forty years. Jakobson’s debt to Saussure was immense, and he did not conceal it. His writings are peppered with references to Saussure, perhaps more copiously than the writings of any other linguist who was not actually a member of the Geneva school. But Jakobson never seemed entirely comfortable with the Saussurean inheritance, or with his own role as executor.

    Part of the...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Lévi-Strauss’s Saussure
    (pp. 109-132)

    It was to Jakobson that Claude Lévi-Strauss owed his introduction to the work of Saussure. According to Lévi-Strauss’s own account, before attending Jakobson’s lectures, ‘je ne savais à peu prés rien en linguistique’ (Lévi-Strauss 1976: 191). The lectures in question were ‘Six leçons sur le son et le sens’ (Jakobson 1942a) and the unlikely venue for this introduction was New York, where both Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss found themselves wartime exiles. From the start, therefore, Lévi-Strauss’s reading of Saussure had a Jakobsonian slant to it. Jakobson’s lectures were for Lévi-Strauss ‘la révélation de la linguistique structurale’. Thus by 1942 Saussure was...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Barthes’s Saussure
    (pp. 133-151)

    Half a century after Saussure’s death, Roland Barthes proposed a new academic discipline, of neo-Saussurean inspiration, which he originally called trans-linguistique. Whether or not this was ever more than an academic gimmick, it purported to be based on a radical rethinking of Saussure’s position, and as such became extremely influential for a whole generation of French (and subsequently British and American) students. By appealing to Saussurean theory and appropriating Saussurean terminology Barthes introduced a form of cultural analysis which, as in the case of Lévi-Strauss, was in many respects quite unSaussurean although ostensibly flaunting Saussurean credentials.

    Translinguistics was to be...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Chomsky’s Saussure
    (pp. 152-170)

    There seems to be no indication that Noam Chomsky, founder of modern generative linguistics, had ever read or paid any attention to the work of Saussure until the appearance, in 1959, of the first English translation of the CLG (Baskin 1959). Since Bloomfield’s review of 1923, the only serious discussion of Saussure’s work to be published in America had been an isolated article by Rulon Wells in the journal Word (Wells 1947). Although Jakobson had lectured on Saussure in New York during the war, his lectures did not appear in print until much later. Even in the late 1950s, the...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Derrida’s Saussure
    (pp. 171-188)

    Saussure is, for Derrida, one of the founders of modern linguistics and, as such, one of the culprits responsible for perpetuating in the name of ‘science’ an ancient, ethnocentric and flawed view of the relationship between speech and writing. In De la grammatologie (1967), observes a recent commentator, Derrida sets himself an ambitious task:

    to question and contest a tradition of Western thought in which writing has consistently been cast in a role subordinate to that of speech. Whereas speech is habitually associated with reason and rationality (the Greek notion of logos) and the voice is perceived as being closer...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN History’s Saussure
    (pp. 189-213)

    J. R. Firth once divided all linguists of his generation into four classes: Saussureans, anti-Saussureans, post-Saussureans and non-Saussureans (Firth 1950: 179). As will be evident from the preceding chapters, what exactly it means to be a ‘Saussurean’ (or an ‘anti-Saussurean’, etc.) is by no means a cut-and-dried matter, for interpretations of Saussure’s teaching have varied considerably. So Firth’s pronouncement in the end tells us rather less than at first sight it might appear to. Even Firth, who regarded himself fairly unequivocally as a ‘non-Saussurean’, falls into that category only if we accept his interpretation of Saussure’s position as ‘mechanistic structuralism’...

  17. POSTSCRIPT: A New Saussure?
    (pp. 214-252)

    Since the first edition of this book appeared, a newly discovered cache of notes in Saussure’s own hand, long hidden in a drawer of the Saussure family house in Geneva, has been published (Écrits de linguistique générale par Ferdinand de Saussure, ed. Simon Bouquet and Rudolf Engler, Paris, Gallimard, 2002. References to the new material in the text of this publication will be indicated by the abbreviation ELG, followed by the page and, where relevant, the editors’ number of the item in question. Thus ELG: 82.29a refers to the note published on page 82 and numbered by Bouquet and Engler...

  18. References
    (pp. 253-259)
  19. Index
    (pp. 260-262)