Lecture 11: History Writing in the 1960s and 1970s and the ‘linguistic turn’

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(Slide) signifier –signified.

(slide) Saussure’s Central Claims:

  1. Languages are not confined to words but include any system of communication that uses signs.

  1. A sign is composed of a ‘signifier’ (vocal sound, image) and a ‘signified’ (the mental concept or structure that speaker and listener share). The structure precedes the ‘signifier’ in existence (said Saussure). Prioritising the structure pre-casts knowledge amongst hearers, creating a structuralist understanding of knowledge. The referent (the thing) to which the sign points is not part of the sign.

  2. A ‘signifier’ is established quite arbitrarily and bears no resemblance to the signified. Each signified (the mental concept) can have only one signifier, but a signifier can have more than one signified (e.g. mouse=rodent/computer mouse)

  3. Every sign acquires meaning by belonging to a network of other signs (of similar signs and dissimilar signs). No sign in itself is meaningful. There is in every sign a suggestion of another, oppositional sign, giving an on/off quality to all signs.

  4. Saussure regarded the spoken language as more important than written language.

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