LINGUIST List 16.2056|
Sat Jul 02 2005
Review: History of Linguistics: Sanders (2005)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara
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The Cambridge Companion to Saussure
Message 1: The Cambridge Companion to Saussure
From: Ludwig Fesenmeier <ludwig.fesenmeieruni-koeln.de>
Subject: The Cambridge Companion to Saussure
EDITOR: Sanders, Carol
TITLE: The Cambridge Companion to Saussure
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-1335.html
Ludwig Fesenmeier, Department of Romance Languages,
University of Cologne
PURPOSE AND CONTENTS OF THE BOOK
The purpose of the Companion is to provide "an up-to-date
introduction to, and assessment of, Saussure's ideas to an English-
speaking readership" (p. 3). The aim of the various contributions is
thus twofold: discussion of Saussurean thought in the context of
Anglophone approaches (both linguistics and intellectual history) and
imparting the communication of work done in languages and scientific
intellectual [research/investigative] traditions other than those of the
The book contains fifteen articles which are distributed structured into
four parts and preceded by a the "Notes on contributors" section (pp.
vii-x) and a brief "Introduction: Saussure today" written by the editor
(pp. 1-6); at the end one finds the (happily shortfew) "Notes" section
(pp. 261-266), a two-partfold bibliography ("Works by Saussure and
further reading", pp. 267-272; "References", pp. 273-297) and
anthe "Index" of both names and concepts (pp. 298-303).
The unifying theme of the first part and the two contributions it
contains is labelled "Out of the nineteenth century" (pp. 7-44). The
four articles of the second part (pp. 45-104) are devoted
to "The 'Course in General Linguistics'" (henceforth CLG, derived
fromfollowing the original title), while the following part, containing six
papers, considers the time "After the 'Cours'" (pp. 105-202). The
contributions of the fourth part present "New debates and directions"
The first part starts with Anna Morpurgo Davies' "Saussure and Indo-
European linguistics" (pp. 9-29), where Saussure's work in this field of
investigation is discussed, especially his "Mémoire sur le système
primitive des voyelles en indo-européen" (1879). The author sketches
briefly the intellectualscientific environment (historical-comparative
method, the school of Lipsia - (where Saussure arrived in 1876), -, the
neogrammarians), the content, the reception and the impact of
the "Mémoire", pointing out on the one hand how already as soon as
1879 Saussure's argumentation is based (rather implicitly) on such
methodical concepts as 'structure'/'system'; on the other hand there
appearsit describes a Saussure constantly in "need for definition, for a
terminology which is actually consistent and explicit" (p. 27).
Carol Sanders presents "The Paris years" of Saussure (he
movedwent there in 1880), first of all drawing a picture of the linguistic
(Michel Bréal, Abel Hovelacque, Arsène Darmesteter, Bréal) and also
the wider intellectual context (Auguste Comte, Ernest Renan,
Hippolyte Taine, Renan). She shows how many of the central
concepts which are thought of today as "Saussurean"
("langue", "parole", "valeur", "synchrony", "diachrony" etc.) can be
found in a more or less implicit (and embryonic) way in the works of
the persons just referred to.
At the beginning of the second part there is the contribution by Rudolf
Engler about "The making of the 'Cours de linguistique générale'" (pp.
47-58; it is in part an abbreviated version of an earlier article (Engler
1987), see p. 51). The author stresses the fact that the CLG "does not
contain Saussure's 'actual words'" (p. 47), but is rather a mixture of
students' lecture notes and some preparatory remarks of Saussure
himself (a fact not always seen so clearly after 1916). He also shows
how the editors of the CLG, Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye,
influenced its contents on the background of theirwith their own
viewpoints of view, though not in any consistent way.
The following article by John E. Joseph deals with "The linguistic sign"
(pp. 59-75). He presents the basic aspects of how this central notion
is conceived of in the CLG: the distinction "signifier - signified"
("signifiant - signifié"), the concrete vs. the abstract character of the
sign vs. its components, the arbitrariness and the motivation in their
conjunction, the mutability vs. immutability of the sign, the concept
of "value" ("valeur"), the linearity of the "signifier". Joseph also takes in
consideration the problems raised by Saussure's account, but he
concludes nevertheless that "with his conception of the linguistic sign
[...] he got something drastically right" (p. 75).
Another important concept, or rather conceptual coupling,
namely "'langue' 'Langue' and 'parole'" is discussed in the contribution
of W. Terrence Gordon (pp. 76-87), who calls it even
the "foundational complementarity" of the CLG for having "privileged
status and unique status in itself" (p. 77). A brief presentation of these
concepts is followed by an overview of the more or less recent
criticism attracted thereby (Charles K. Ogden/Ivor A. Richards, John
R. Firth, Rulon Wells, Nicol Ch. W. Spence, John Hewson, Paul
The last paper of the second part is that of Claudine Normand
on "System, arbitrariness, value" (pp. 88-104), where "a historical and
theoretical perspective" on these notions is offered (p. 88). The author
discusses in some detail the notions mentioned in the title, completing
them by the notions "synchrony" and "diachrony". What is more, of
greater value is that Normand puts them together in a
comprehensive "system", underlining that "Saussure's theory consists
of a set of dovetailed concepts which have to be unfolded one after
the other, though they are interdependent" (p. 91).
"Saussure and American linguistics" by Julia S. Falk (pp. 107-123)
opens the third part. After a quite brief sketch of the ideas Saussure
himself found in the works of Willian Dwight Whitney (p. 107f), Falk
goes on to describe Leonard Bloomfield's reaction to the CLG as
documented in various publications, but whose acknowledgement of
the CLG had no lasting effect. A certain change took place with the
arrival of Roman Jakobson, whose engagement for Saussurean
concepts extended "throughout the four decades of his life in the
United States" (p. 114). Falk concludes that "so-called American
structuralism was not built directly on a Saussurean foundation" (p. 118),
for some structuralist key -concepts, as Bloomfield put it,
have "long been 'in the air' and [have] been here and there
fragmentarily expressed" (quoted in Falk, p. 108).
Christian Puech draws attention to "Saussure and structuralist
linguistics in Europe" (pp. 124-138), taking a closer look to "the
milestones of the French reception of the 'Cours' in a European
context" (p. 125). He therefore proposes a chronological and a
method-manner-based [style-based] differentiation, favouring the
latter, which that goes as follows: "adoption of a conceptual framework
constructed [...] on the basis of the 'Cours'" (e. g. Prague
phonology, Danish glossematics) vs. "a 'heritage' consisting of the
belated recognition of a source, and post-hoc imitation, borrowings
and recourse to numerous intermediaries" (p. 128). The author further
considers the attitudes of (partial) acceptance or rejection towards of
the ideas put forward in the CLG, assumed by important French
linguists (Ferdinand Brunot, Jacques Damourette/Edouard Pichon,
Gustave Guillaume, Émile Benveniste, André Martinet, Benveniste,
Brunot, Damourette/Pichon, Guillaume).
Stephen C. Hutchings' article is about "The Russian critique of
Saussure" (pp. 139-156), considering in particular Valentin
Voloshinov/Mikhail Bakhtin, Iurii Tynianov, and Roman Jakobson and
Voloshinov/Bakhtin. His aim is "to establish the parallels and trace the
divergences" between the "currents in literary structuralism" (p. 140)
which emerged during the application to "new fields", strongly
influenced by Roman Jakobson, of ideas present in the CLG.
In his contribution "Saussure, Barthes and structuralism" (pp. 157-
173), Steven Ungar aims "to trace and comment on the evolving role
of Saussure's 'Course' in the writings of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland
Barthes and Jacques Lacan" (p. 157). He concludes that in particular
Barthes' reading of the CLG brought about a strong polarization
among social scientists whose attitudes can be summarized as a
follows: serious misreading vs. a further elaboration of a programme
only sketched in the CLG.
Peter Wunderli's paper offers a sketch of "Saussure's anagrams and
the analysis of literary texts" (pp. 174-185), a field of activity which
only many years after the CLG should would become known as also
entered by Saussure. His anagram studies were received
enthusiastically in France (Jacques Derrida, Philippe Sollers, and Julia
Kristéva, Philippe Sollers, and Jacques Derrida, among others),
although the theory developed proved not to not be not adequate. As
Wunderli argues, the anagram studies only apparently contradict
certain views found in the CLG (linearity, conjunction of signifier and
signified etc.), because "[t]he anagram [...] is not a linguistic, but a
poetic phenomenon", "a poetic epiphenomenon" (p. 181) with regards
to "normal" language use.
The article by Geoffrey Bennington on "Saussure and Derrida" (pp.
186-202) focuses on the role of "writing", more precisely on the
relations between the phonic and the written realization of language
as discussed mainly in Derrida's "De la grammatologie". According to
Derrida, in a "general grammatology [...] linguistics-phonology would
be merely a dependent and circumscribed region" (quoted in
Bennington, p. 188).
The fourth part starts with Simon Bouquet's contribution
about "Saussure's unfinished semantics" (pp. 205-218). He intends to
point up out "the central importance of the interpretative point of view"
in Saussure's thoughts (p. 205). As emerges from some notes, the
decision to omit discussing aa linguistics of 'parole' reveals turns out
to have been taken made only for didactic reasons. In fact, in such
notes there are numerous occurrences of "discourse" in the sense
of "utterances in use" (p. 210) neglected by the editors of the CLG.
The concept of 'discourse' seems to be used in different contexts (see
pp. 210-213). Bouquet then concludes that there is a "doubly
incomplete nature of his [= Saussure's] conception of meaning" (p.
217), because, firstly, Saussure fails to give a properly semiotic theory
of 'in praesentia' relationships; secondly, it remains unclear "to
which 'semiotics' a linguistics of 'parole' [...] belongs" (p. 218).
In "Saussure, linguistic theory and philosophy of science" (pp. 219-
239) Christopher Norris deals, on an epistemological level, with "the
relationship between Saussurean linguistics and debates within
twentieth-century philosophy of science" (p. 219). As one "salient
feature" (p. 220) of Saussurean linguistics, he identifies the insight
that linguistics, in order to count as a science, must necessarily be
aware of the difference between its object and that object'se
description of the latter. In the final analysis, this meansis to say that
linguistics as a science must be able to decide "what counts as a
relevant 'fact' within its own (properly specified) object-domain" (p. 224),
but here arise serious problems arise due to the very nature of
the object of linguistics - problems that Saussure was surely aware of,
but not yet had the means to resolve.problems Saussure was surely
aware of, but whose solution required tools that Saussure did not yet
The last article, written by Paul Bouissac, intends to review and
assess "Saussure's legacy in semiotics" (pp. 240-260). Saussure's
impact in this field can roughly be "traced along three paths" (p. 243):
Eastern Europe (Prague functionalism, Moscow-Tartu school),
Denmark (glossematics) and France (French structuralism).
Nevertheless, one must not forget that there was also an
influence "the other way round", i. e., among others, the influence of
Russian Formalism, Cybernetics or Lacanian Freudism (see p. 244),
leading to "some kind of hybridising and creolisation" of Saussurism
(p. 246). As far as the relevance of Saussure to actual semiotics is
concerned, the author considers "Saussure's contribution to a general
science of signs" as "a mine of heuristic questions and uneasy
tentative solutions" (p. 256).
The explicitly stated aim explicitly stated of the "Cambridge
Companion to Saussure" is to provide "an up-to-date introduction to,
and assessment of, Saussure's ideas to an English-speaking
readership" (p. 3) and (more generally?) "offer a fresh new account of
Saussure's work" (p. i). In spite of the little minor contradiction
between these two statements, the first goal can surely be surely
considered to have been achieved. This isThe latter is so the more as
more important, as since the influence of Saussurean thought both on
linguistics and other social sciences was so lasting crucial that one
might indeed speak of a profound difference between the countries
and fields of researchscientific communities where these thoughts
have become part of the scientific foundations right from the beginning
and those that only lately and indirectly have taken into account these
But even if one is rooted in one of the formerly- mentioned fields or
has scientifically "grown" inside a "Saussurean" framework and thus is
familiar with such notions as "langue", "parole", "synchrony", "diachrony",
"value" etc., the book under review is a good reminder of how many aspects of
Saussure and his work (have) become and continue to be taken for granted all
too easily. As far as the CLG is concerned, among other thingss one
could mention: Saussure is not the author of the CLG in any traditional
sense; the above mentioned concepts form complementaries rather
than oppositions; their status is better conceived of as methodical
concepts rather than as something belonging to the object itself. With
regards to Saussurean thought, its novelty concerns less the single
concepts in "isolation", but more the fact of having them brought
together in a systemic way. Last not least, Saussure himself appears
to be an extremely scrupulous scholar who was well aware of the
preliminary character of his insights and the problems they could
raise. Though it is highly improbable that he would ever have
consented to the publication of his oral lectures, it is the
many "shortcomings" of the CLG which are responsible for its success
and its role in the history of ideas.
While all the aforementioned aspects are repeatedly highlighted by
the authors, there seems to be one important point - or rather name -
missing in the section "After the 'Cours'". At least in the Spanish and
German (but also other Romance) linguistic traditions the ideas put
forward in the CLG are closely associated with the work done - from
1952 onwards - by Eugenio Coseriu (1921-2002), who "completed"
some of the central "dichotomies" discussed in the CLG: lengua -
NORMA - habla, sincronía - diacronía - HISTORIA (these are the
original Spanish terms; see Coseriu 1958 and 1962). Unfortunately,
Coseriu has published very little in English, but this is not sufficient for
explaining his absence from the book under review (there is one
(minor) title quoted in the bibliography, see p. 269; a list of Coseriu's
publications can be obtained from http://www.coseriu.de ). If there is in a
possible second edition, this missing point should be completed. One
might also include, then, Saussure's interest in onomastic questions
(see Arsenijevic 2000), maybe putting it together with Peter
Wunderli's - important - contribution on the anagram studies which
does not seem to fit quite well in the part "After the 'Cours'" because
these studies were became known only many years after Saussure's
death and there is no direct link between them and the topics
discussed concerning the reception of the CLG. A further useful
complement would have been a short bio-bibliographical sketch of
the "person" Ferdinand de Saussure (in tabular form) to help the
reader getting an overview of his (scientific) life (see e. g. Bouquet
(ed.) 2003, 502-512).
Furthermore, the reader, who has been reminded in many other parts
of the book of the "Master's" need for consistent terminology, may be
irritated somewhat by a number of cases in which this ideal is not
upheld:There are some other details which more or less bother the
- Isn't there not a difference between "general" and "theoretical"
linguistics (see p. 9 and passim)?
- Were the scholars working using the comparative method really
concerned with phonology and not rather phonetics (see p. 13 and
passim; vs. "phonetic" on p. 21)?
- Must "la langue" really be called "a synchronic system" or similar
(p. 35 and passim)?
- Can Saussure be considered a neogrammarian or not? (rather
negative Morpurgo Davies, p. 25f - rather affirmative Bouquet, p. 206)?
Among the (happily few) typographical errors, the more annoying
are "'coefficient_ sonantiques'" (pp. 22, 26), "'antimonie'" (p. 36), "ComPte"
(pp. 37, 298, but p. 206), "the German 'NiEbelungen'"
(p. 42), "that was it was" (p. 161). And why "The 'COURSE in General
Linguistics'" (title of part II) but "After the 'COURS'" (title of part III)?
In conclusion, despite the problems discussed so far, the "Cambridge
Companion to Saussure" is a book which is has been long overdue
and will serve quite well the goals it is intended for. And when in
the "Introduction" Carol Sanders talks about possible reasons
for "Saussure's almost cult-figure status", one perhaps stops
wondering why there is a Canadian company which that sell olds
pinback buttonspins/badges featuring images of and /being inspired
by Saussure ...
Arsenijevic, Milorad (2000): "Ferdinand de Saussure onomasticien:
valait-il la peine de continuer?", in: Englebert, Annick et al. (edd.)
(2000): Actes du XXIIe Congrès International de Linguistique et de
Philologie Romanes, Tübingen, vol. IV, 77-83.
Bouquet, Simon (ed.) (2003): Ferdinand de Saussure, Paris.
Coseriu, Eugenio (1958): Sincronía, diacronía e historia, Montevideo.
Coseriu, Eugenio (1962): Teoría del lenguaje y lingüística general,
Engler, Rudolf (1987): "Die Verfasser des C[ours de] L[inguistique] G
[énérale]", in: Schmitter, Peter (ed.) (1987): Geschichte der
Sprachtheorie 1. Zur Theorie und Methode der Geschichtsschreibung
der Linguistik, Tübingen, 141-161.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ludwig Fesenmeier teaches Romance linguistics at the Department of
Romance Languages, University of Cologne, and is currently working
on his post-doctoral thesis on lexical synonymy in the Romance
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