Fixed Nature Of Wholes In Language—The Synchronic Axis Of Language

Language Depends On The Word For Its Field Of Signification-The Word Depends On
Language For Its Meaning-Reciprocal Movement

Once Saussure had delineated the structure of the word, he also delineated the
structure of language. For Saussure, the sign relates to language in the same
way as the signifier relates to the signified. The word, as opposed to being a name for an object, is a differentiation in the set of linguistic units that, when taken as a whole, constitute a language. A word acquires its meaning, according to Saussure, in the way it differentiates itself from the whole, the whole being the collective expression of an entire language. We find here the same double movement constituting the meaning of the sign as it relates to language, as we did in the word relationship of signifier to signified. Here the word becomes dependent on language for its meaning and language becomes dependent on the word for its “field of
signification.” Thus the arbitrary character of the sign is what
permits order and meaning to arise in the world. John Sturrock, in his book
“Structuralism and Since,” underscores this distinction when he says:

“The extremely important consequence which Saussure draws from this twofold
arbitrariness is that language is a system not of fixed, unalterable essences
but of labile forms. It is a system of relations between its constituent units,
and those units are themselves constituted by the differences that mark them off
from other, related units. They cannot be said to have any existence within
themselves, they are dependent for their identity on their fellows. It is the
place which a particular unit, be it phonetic or semantic, occupies in the
linguistic system which alone determines its value. Those values shift because
there is nothing to hold them steady; the system is fundamentally arbitrary in
respect of nature and what is arbitrary may be changed.” [John Sturrock,
Structuralism From Levi-Strauss to Derrida, 1979, p.10]

Saussure, using the above characterization of language, distinguishes between
langue and parole. Parole becomes the particular acts of linguistic expression
in speech while langue becomes the component aspect of language
that generates meaning through the internal play of differences. In
this respect, language forms a system of contrasts, distinctions, and oppositions
that come together in the form of pure values which, as Sturrock points out, are
solely determined by how they differ from each other as they are produced in the
system of language. Thus, language becomes a theoretical system
operating according to linguistic rules where in speakers of language, in order to
communicate, must obey these rules. It then becomes the job of linguistics
to discover the mechanisms which make language possible.

Language, in addition to being inherited, forms, according to Saussure, a corpus of
linguistic rules arising out of ahistorical conditions that allow a person to
understand and be understood. To the extent that language succeeds in this
endeavor, it is collectively determined and not susceptible to arbitrary change.
Saussure calls this aspect of language the synchronic nature of language
and it is in this synchronic nature of language where we encounter for the first
time the idea of the “fixed nature of wholes.”


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to Fixed Nature Of Wholes In Language—The Synchronic Axis Of Language

  1. You are one of the people I think would do well on Pinterest. You could combine your picture’s with quotes and link back to your blog. Just my old lady idea.

  2. bwinwnbwi says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m running out of energy as it is (eventually, I will take a computer break, probably a long one). About half way through my next paper–on prejudice, I will introduce the concept of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. Although I will not be discussing structuralism at that time, nevertheless, many of the characteristics that I am discussing now–synchronic evolution, reciprocal movement, a category of mind that extracts meaning from phenomena, the fixed nature of wholes, free and spontaneous acts of the human spirit, etc.–apply to my concept of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self also. Thanks for your support. Take care.

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