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Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005 18:43:11 +0200 From: Ludwig Fesenmeier Subject: The Cambridge Companion to Saussure
EDITOR: Sanders, Carol TITLE: The Cambridge Companion to Saussure PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2005
Ludwig Fesenmeier, Department of Romance Languages, University of Cologne
[This review replaces the version posted at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16-2056.html -- Eds.]
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 the communication of work done in languages and research traditions other than those of the English- speaking world.
The book contains fifteen articles which are structured into four parts and preceded by a "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 short) "Notes" section (pp. 261-266), a two- part bibliography ("Works by Saussure and further reading", pp. 267- 272; "References", pp. 273-297) and an "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 from 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" (pp. 203-260).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 intellectual 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 it 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 moved there in 1880), first of all drawing a picture of the linguistic (Michel Bréal, Abel Hovelacque, Arsène Darmesteter) and also the wider intellectual context (Auguste Comte, Ernest Renan, Hippolyte Taine). 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 with their own points 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' 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 Thibault etc.).
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". 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-based differentiation, favouring the latter, which 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 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).
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. 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 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 would become known as also entered by Saussure. His anagram studies were received enthusiastically in France (Jacques Derrida, Philippe Sollers, and Julia Kristéva, among others), although the theory developed proved not to be 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 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 a linguistics of 'parole' turns out to have been 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's description. In the final analysis, this means 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 serious problems arise due to the very nature of the object of linguistics - problems Saussure was surely aware of, but whose solution required tools that Saussure did not yet possess.
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 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 minor contradiction between these two statements, the first goal can surely be considered to have been achieved. The latter is so the more important, since the influence of Saussurean thought both on linguistics and other social sciences was so crucial that one might indeed speak of a profound difference between the scientific 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 ideas.
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 things one could mention: Saussure is not the author of the CLG in any traditional sense; the abovementioned 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 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 www.coseriu.de). 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 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 get 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:
- Isn't there 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 - 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).
In conclusion, despite the problems discussed so far, the "Cambridge Companion to Saussure" is a book which 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 that sells pins featuring images of and 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, Madrid.
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:
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 languages.