You are browsing the archive for Docs Tags Saussure.

A Lie Within a Lie

February 19, 2021 in

“Course in General Linguistics” sees Saussure explore the intricacies of language. Setting up the playing field with a few ground rules. First and foremost, he states that language is a tool we use to shape our thoughts. Without language, thoughts would simply exist as a shapeless blob. Language is therefore how we express our psychology. Something that we, as a collective, have agreed upon to use as we deem fit. He suggests a basic formula from which all language is based upon— signified + signifier = sign. In this formula “signified” correlates to a “concept”, for example, a creature that moos. “Signifier” then correlates to a sound image meaning the actual phonetical word we use for a creature that moos and what comes to mind when we think of a creature that moos i.e a cow. When signified and signifier are added together, we create a “sign” that encapsulates the entirety of a “cow”. Saussure also takes care to explain that the signifier or sound image does not equate to a “sign”. However, we assume that the sensory word for “cow” will express the concept itself so we, egregiously, equate the concept with its clear plastic casing—the signifier. Herein lies a problem. How we name things is arbitrary, relying heavily on the influence of our culture. Take for example Latin which branches off into several languages; languages in which one concept will take on different signifiers despite all sharing the same root and consequently, the value of this one concept fluctuates depending on the signifier we decide to use.

Being that the relationship between signified and signifier is arbitrary, yet we still take the signifier to equate the concept, I believe that Nietzsche would take this to support his argument on “truth”. The value of a concept is entirely dependent on its signifier and since Nietzsche argues that we use language as a means to keep us from the truth then what better example than the one Saussure presents us with—mouton in French but sheep in English; “in speaking of a piece of meat ready to be served on the table, English uses mutton and not sheep. The value between sheep and mouton is due to the fact that sheep has beside it a second term while the French word does not”. The cultural influence over our language enables us to ignore that there is no natural connection between signified and signifier; meaning that we take a form to mean a substance. Nietzsche argued that language within it of itself is a constructed lie, here we see this taken a step further. Saussure explains that we take language to be a tool from which we build lies which we have grown to ignore—a paradox, of sorts because we’re not cognizant that we build lies as in we are not aware of the equation formerly mentioned. Therefore, we have built lies from lies that obfuscate our understanding of the truth/ concept. How many words exist in language that define cow? And how many exist to define a product that comes from a cow? Nietzsche would argue that we are so scared of the gravity of our reality that we have, as a coping mechanism, allowed for the establishment of idiosyncrasies in the tools we use to face our reality.