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Course in General Linguistics

Course in General Linguistics: Translated by Wade Baskin. Edited by Perry Meisel and Haun Saussy

Ferdinand de Saussure
Translated by Wade Baskin
Perry Meisel
Haun Saussy
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Course in General Linguistics
    Book Description:

    The founder of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure inaugurated semiology, structuralism, and deconstruction and made possible the work of Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan, thus enabling the development of French feminism, gender studies, New Historicism, and postcolonialism. Based on Saussure's lectures, Course in General Linguistics (1916) traces the rise and fall of the historical linguistics in which Saussure was trained, the synchronic or structural linguistics with which he replaced it, and the new look of diachronic linguistics that followed this change. Most important, Saussure presents the principles of a new linguistic science that includes the invention of semiology, or the theory of the "signifier," the "signified," and the "sign" that they combine to produce.

    This is the first critical edition of Course in General Linguistics to appear in English and restores Wade Baskin's original translation of 1959, in which the terms "signifier" and "signified" are introduced into English in this precise way. Baskin renders Saussure clearly and accessibly, allowing readers to experience his shift of the theory of reference from mimesis to performance and his expansion of poetics to include all media, including the life sciences and environmentalism. An introduction situates Saussure within the history of ideas and describes the history of scholarship that made Course in General Linguistics legendary. New endnotes enlarge Saussure's contexts to include literary criticism, cultural studies, and philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52795-8
    Subjects: Linguistics, Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Editors’ Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Textual Note
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Saussure and His Contexts
    (pp. xv-xlviii)

    This new edition of Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1916) restores the Saussure that generations of English readers grew up on: Wade Baskin’s 1959 translation. In addition to its inherent elegance, Baskin’s translation of the lectures Saussure gave at the end of his life at the University of Geneva is indispensable for a very particular reason, one that Roy Harris’s 1983 translation wholly obscures: the rendition of Saussure’s terms “signifiant” and “signifié” (CLG 1972, 99) as “signifier” and “signified” (CGL 1959, 67). These equivalent neologisms in French and English embody precisely what is revolutionary about Saussure’s thought and what is...

    (pp. xlix-lii)
    Wade Baskin

    Few other figures in the history of the science of language have commanded such lasting respect and inspired such varied accomplishments as Ferdinand de Saussure. Leonard Bloomfield justly credited the eminent Swiss professor with providing “a theoretic foundation to the newer trend in linguistics study,” and European scholars have seldom failed to consider his views when dealing with any theoretical problem. But the full implications of his teachings, for both static and evolutionary studies, have still to be elaborated.

    De Saussure succeeded in impressing his individual stamp on almost everything within his reach. At the age of twenty, while still...

    (pp. liii-lviii)
    Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye
    (pp. 1-37)

    The science that has been developed around the facts of language passed through three stages before finding its true and unique object.

    First something called “grammar” was studied. This study, initiated by the Greeks and continued mainly by the French, was based on logic. It lacked a scientific approach and was detached from language itself. Its only aim was to give rules for distinguishing between correct and incorrect forms; it was a normative discipline, far removed from actual observation, and its scope was limited.

    Next appeared philology. A “philological” school had existed much earlier in Alexandria, but this name is...

  9. APPENDIX Principles of Phonology
    (pp. 38-64)
  10. PART ONE General Principles
    (pp. 65-100)

    Some people regard language, when reduced to its elements, as a naming-process only—a list of words, each corresponding to the thing that it names. For example:

    This conception is open to criticism at several points. It assumes that ready-made ideas exist before words (on this point, see below, p. 111); it does not tell us whether a name is vocal or psychological in nature (arbor, for instance, can be considered from either viewpoint); finally, it lets us assume that the linking of a name and a thing is a very simple operation—an assumption that is anything but true....

  11. PART TWO Synchronic Linguistics
    (pp. 101-139)

    The aim of general synchronic linguistics is to set up the fundamental principles of any idiosynchronic system, the constituents of any language-state. Many of the items already explained in Part One belong rather to synchrony; for instance, the general properties of the sign are an integral part of synchrony although they were used to prove the necessity of separating the two linguistics.

    To synchrony belongs everything called “general grammar,” for it is only through language-states that the different relations which are the province of grammar are established. In the following chapters we shall consider only the basic principles necessary for approaching...

  12. PART THREE Diachronic Linguistics
    (pp. 140-190)

    What diachronic linguistics studies is not relations between coexisting terms of a language-state but relations between successive terms that are substituted for each other in time.

    There is really no such thing as absolute immobility (see pp. 75 ff.). Every part of language is subjected to change. To each period there corresponds some appreciable evolution. Evolution may vary in rapidity and intensity, but this does not invalidate the principle. The stream of language flows without interruption; whether its course is calm or torrential is of secondary importance.

    That we often fail to see this uninterrupted evolution is due to the...

  13. PART FOUR Geographical Linguistics
    (pp. 191-211)

    As we approach the question of the spatial relations of the linguistic phenomenon, we leave internal linguistics and enter external linguistics. The scope of external linguistics was outlined in Chapter V of the Introduction.

    The most striking thing about the study of languages is their diversity—linguistic differences that appear when we pass from one country to another or even from one region to another. Divergences in time often escape the observer, but divergences in space immediately force themselves upon him; even savages grasp them, thanks to their contacts with other tribes that speak a different language. Indeed, these comparisons...

  14. PART FIVE Concerning Retrospective Linguistics
    (pp. 212-232)

    Synchronic linguistics has only the perspective of speakers and, consequently, only one method; diachronic linguistics, however, requires both a prospective and a retrospective viewpoint (see p. 90).

    The prospective method, which corresponds to the actual course of events, is the one we must use in developing any point concerning the history of a language or of languages. It consists simply of examining the available documents. But all too many problems of diachronic linguistics cannot be met by the prospective method.

    In fact, in order to give a detailed history of a language by following its course in time, one would...

  15. Errata
    (pp. 233-234)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 235-238)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 239-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-262)