Ferdinand de Saussure (1857- 1913)
by Frank Caccioppoli
Ferdinand de Saussure, an accomplished linguist and influential writer, was born on 26 November 1857 in Geneva, Switzerland. Saussure studied in various universities throughout Europe, including in Geneva and Leipzig, before moving to Paris to teach. He later became the chair of linguistics at the University of Geneva, where he gave many lectures throughout the course of his career.
Saussure did not publish many works during his lifetime, but following his death, his students assembled notes from his various lectures and published them in 1916 as Cours de Linguistique Generale, or Course in General Linguistics when it was translated and published in English in 1959. Using his background in philology and linguistics, Saussure explored the connection between a word’s sound and its meaning, independent of a word’s history or etymology. Saussure believed that every word had a signifier (the sound of the word) and a signified portion (the concept the word represents), and that there was no inherent correlation between the sound and meaning of words across languages. His study of universal systems or structures in languages later became an important part of the intellectual movement known as Structuralism, which focuses on looking at human concepts and ideas with the same methodology that Saussure applied to language.
Saussure, Ferdinand, “Course in General Linguistics.” Philosophical Library, 1959.
Buchanan, Ian. “Saussure, Ferdinand de.” A Dictionary of Critical Theory, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Buchanan, Ian. “Structuralism.” A Dictionary of Critical Theory, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Canning, Peter. “Saussure, Ferdinand de.” Encyclopedia of Postmodernism, edited by Victor Taylor and Charles Winquist, Routledge, 1st edition, 2001.