Research Home

Saussure's First Course of Lectures on General Linguistics (1996)
from the notebooks of Albert Riedlinger

  • This version is a direct translation of the notebooks of one totally anal retentive student, who looks like he took straight transcription.  The volume has the original french fo Riedlinger's notes on the left page and the english translation on the right.  This volume is free of the disciples Bally and Sechehaye's edification.
  • "We shall thus have to be content to define linguistics from the outside by considering the progressive probings through which it becomes conscious of itself by establishing what is not linguistics " (1a) . Note the explicit Hegelian terminology in "outside" "conscious of itself" and "what is not."
  • "To get to a deeper idea of linguistics two paths are possible: a theoretical method (synthesis) and a practical method (analysis).  We shall pursue the second..." (2a)
  • "the distinctive attribute of language which is following its natural course is to change; when it stays immobile or almost, then something abnormal is happening." (3a)
  • "It is natural for us to accord the written sign preeminence over the spoken sign: the written sign is for us the type or the model of the of the spoken sign.  This is for two reasons:
    1. a psychological cause for most people: the visual disposition, the tendancy to give more importance to what comes to us v'ia sight than to what is communicated via hearing; and this comes from the fact that writing is a more stable element than speech.
    2. a more specific reason: the idea that the language is governed by a code and that this code is a written code is a  written rule (school grammar).  Each of us forgets that we learned to speak before learning to write and thus we reverse the relationships."(4a)
  • "In fact, it is not possible to take the written word as the basis of Linguistics... The purpose of the alphabet is to fix by means of conventional signs what exists in speech" (5a)
  • the relationship is not "written word/spoken word=object (of linguistics)" but rather
    "spoken word=object (written word/record)"
  • "In order to emerge from this chaos, we need an operational base different from writing; we need to be able to define the sound itself.... we absolutely need what the Germans call 'Laut- (Sprach-) physiologie', what I shall call phonology.  Phonology will be founded on what our organs do when we pronounce a sound; it thus has a physiological basis." (11-12a) (all english quotations are on Xa)
  • Two sides to the phonological method; articulatory (mouth, larynx) and accoustic (ear).  It is the latter that is given us, the "mental impression."
  • Chains of sounds are what we recieve, not individual fragments.
  • accoustic impression cannot be described, while the articulatory could be so done.  thus the diagram on 13a where nasal and buccal cavities, plus the glottis (larynx vocal chords) are discribed. For buccal there is the soft palate and the hard, bony palate.
  • types of sounds, I will cursorily note...
    1. occlusives-every kind of phoneme obtained by the complete, hermetic but momentary closure of th buccal cavity (m,b,p - n,d,t - n,d,t [note where the toungue hits the palate])
    2. fricatives - half-closure of the buccal cavity (f,v - s,z - ?,? - ch, gutteral "du Tage", ich, Jahr )
      spirants -  completely general?
    3. liquids - toungue against the front plate, but leave the sides open ( L,R )
    4. (i, u, ü) - buccal cavity functions as resonator instead of generator.
    5. (é, ô, ö) - fifth degree of aperture
    6. (è, o, o (with a hat))
    7. maximal aperature: three nasals (e~,õ, ö~)  [we're finding the limits of html here... put tildes on top].
  • ...etc.  Labials, bi-labials, dentals, labiodentals...
  • implosions and explosions, sonants and consonant (not to be confused; i can be sonant or consonant...) "in every syllabic unit there is a sonant.  Use of this principle for quantity in poetry..." 
  • "Up till now we have not done any linguistics: the language is s a system of signals: what makes the language is the relationship which the mind establishes among these signals."(23a)

Linguistics (p27a)

  • Three (faulty) conceptions of language
    1. language is an organism without root, growing in itself.
    2. language is conceived only in the individual and is a natural function like eating.
    3. language is a seen as a social function (the language as opposed to Language), language as a social institution.  (But try to find its equal)
  • Thus we come to linguistics:  two doors open on language:
    1. Static side -- everyone is at home it it, each person has immediate sense and control of it.  Each can judge a grammatical question.
    2. instinct is useless, many don't expect it.  the entire historical side of language, everything in the past.  We form a link but don't see the chain
  • reserves "phonetics" to mean changes in sounds in time
  • [hehe he said "monophthongizing" (of dipthongs) and "monophthongization" ]
  • principles for phonetic change
    1. law of least effort.  in place of two articulations, a single is was made; difficult articulation replaced with simpler, etc.
    2. general state of the nation; wholely exterior; connection between volitile periods of history with volitile changes of language (e.g. the romance languages arose during the invasions of Rome)
      • stability in culture is indirectly the external cause of stability of language, but instability is so only in the negative since [fails to directly maintain the stability; doesn't directly act to cause change]
      • language in its natural state IS change; therefore removal of stability of culture returns language to its more natural flow and evolution.
      • phonetic as opposed to gramatical change: grammar changes more readily in agitated historical periods as they depend more directly on thought.
    3. <false> predispositions of race to the nature of phonetic change.  Nurture over nature; any race growing up from birth in a specific culture will develop the same "mouth."
    4. climatology/geography. perhaps some, but laps and fins have a more vocalic language than italians...
    5. phonetic education recieved as a child.  But why would these "mispronunciations" be retained as permanent phonetic change in a generation?
    6. changes in fashion:  but no one has explained changes in fashion. Fashion ruled by laws of imitation, thus subsumes the question of phonetic change into a larger question, making it more purely psychological.  (but where does the process start?)
  • Effects of Phonetic Change
  1. first effect (time and space)
    1. Modifcations in Time
      • change is unlimited over time
      • with only the phonetic language, it would become unintelligable to a [distant] preceeding period
    2. Modifications in Space
      • language changes from villiage to villiage (linguistic atlases of Gillieron[fr], Henker[de])
      • "It is phonetic change which creates the language in its diversity, not the diversity of languages which condition the differences among linguistic changes (43a)
      • two false notions a) one sees unity where dialectical diversity reigns b) boundaries of the language are absolute.
      • territories overlap and french patois/provencal/italian shows a steady continuoum
      • dutch in 1200 was indestiguishable from nearby dialects of German
  2. Grammatical Effect
    1. rupture of the grammatical link
      • a word and its derivation is lost due to the change of phonetics
      • "Etymology has no place in linguistics"(45a)
      • the rupture may or may not be an etymological fact, but it is a phonetic change.
    2. gramatical effect of the phonetic change consisting in a word whose parts became a whole.  The parts of a word which were opposed to eachother cease to be recognizably separate .
      • b) reduces to a) where a word is not recognizable from its root.
      • "To sum up: for me there are no phonetic doublets; the phonetic phenomenon will only accentuate the differences; if they do not stem from external causes we arrive finally at grammatical circumstances which are in no way due to phonetic phenomenon." (50a)
    3. alternation:  the most ordinary and sweeping grammatical effect phonetic change can have :
    neuve, neuf
      • we isolate the element of difference and its regular variation more or less easily, more or less consciously, but we do isolate it. [this is what Derrida is doing]
      • phonetics didn't create this duality, but it steered in this direction
      • here we are creating an imaginary unity out of opposed pairs.
      • alternation: "a correspondence by which two determinate sounds more or less regularly permute among two series of coexistent forms"
      • <53> notebook II

Chapter II -Analogical Changes

  • analogy/anomaly opposition of greek grammar: analogical form is created in the image of another.  we naturally form new words by analogical change.  Children form 'viendre' by analogy to éteindrai : étiendre or craindrai : craindre

    Formula of the Proportional Fourth
    étiendrai : étiendre=
    viendrai : x; x = viendre
    plaire : plaisait=
    traire : x; x = traisant
  • "the only thing these two analogical forms (traisant, viendre) and others have lacked is general acceptance; in themselves they are just as legitimate as others which entered the language." (56a)
  • "analogical change has the characteristic of being an historical error, an offence against the language." (57a)
  • should words which have entered the language by this vehicle better be considered phonetic changes or phonetic creations?
  • in german you can form a deminuitive from any noun (frau : fraulein) the author then could be the first to imagine a new diminuitive: (elephant : elephantlien)
  • In French, similarly, "you can designate a party for x" (pension : pensionaire; mission : missionaire) so similarly you could be the first to say Les interventionaires or les répressionaires...
  • there is in these examples no grounds for "change" as nothing is replaced; these are creations.

Analogy, general prinicple of the creations of the language [de la langue]
or: analogy as a creative activity of the language)

  • the changes in language is a pyschological phenomenon
  • "Any word succeeds in expressing something to the mind only because it is immediately compared with everything which could mean something slightly different (facias: faciam, facio).  If it is true that we always need the fund of language in order to speak, conversely which enters language was first essayed in speech a sufficient number of times for a durable impression to have resulted: the language is only the sanctioning of what has already been evoked by speech." (65a)
  • Language is in the mind, speech is in the voice. Speech is social, language is completely individual.
  • "[In the] sphere of language [the mental, internal] there is never premediation, or even mediation, reflection on forms outside of the act of speech, save for an unconscious, almost passive, in any case not creative, activity: the activity of classification." (65-66a) [Hegel (mediation) and Plato (Forms) in this one]

Internal Classification

  • "The necessity of a classification, of some order, is an a priori necessity even without bringing psychology into the forefront.  As a first element of this order we have to posit: the primordial association between form and idea and group of ideas;  and then another association without which the first could not exist: the association of form with form, of forms among themselves." (66a) [thunderclaps accompany this]
  • form is always invested with its idea (form/idea) (form/idea) etc...
  • two very different groupings: 1) the order which the units of language assume in speech and 2) the principle groupings existing in the sphere of language itself.
  • In association there are:
    1. grouping of forms:  the word unit is immediately associated with its analogues in the different possible series, (at least two). 
      1. quadru]pes
      2. triplex
      • the grouping is done in the community of form in meaning which is only partial
    2. fixing of value: Language (interal, mental) percieves what part of a word remains constant.  this is the souce of a word's intellegibility and precise meaning.
    3. involuntary analysis (subconscious).  "Any grouping of analogies also implies a grouping of differences." (67a)
  • every word also will fall at the point of intersection of several series of analogies a "*" star, which will vary, but will always be necessary for the analysis of a word.
  • "Any syntax goes back to a principle so elementary it seems purile [which never stopped Hegel] to mention it:  the linear character of the language, that is, the impossibility of pronouncing two elements of language simultaneously... I cannot imagine the word except as a single line formed of successive parts:


as much within the brain as in the parts of speech. (70a)

  • the suffix does not exist in itself, but only in the consciousness of the speaker. 
  • Historical meaning is irrelevant to linguistics.  "Speakers in fact have no knowlege of what preceeded their language state; we can never foresee, on the basis of historical conditions, how change will occur." (71a)
  • Governed diversity in language (alternation) is opposed to ungovernened.
  • "ablaut" is the german term for alternation in the root of a word (e.g. finden fand fund, binden band bund)
  • in analysis of the root, which runs on for pages, he demonstrates numerous examples where the radical is difficult to determine, due to compromises in the original root; 
    e.g. rom-anus used to be divided at roma-nos and  alb-anus used to divide at alba-nos
  • principle reason given is that the tendancy is to divide a radical on a consonant... there are many others given not pertinent to my study...
  • Thus, the root is not easily determined in relation to suffix...  Suffix often grabs parts of the radical/root and thus the "suffix" thus changes.  Consequently you cannot universally posit the meaning of a term by the independent meanings of its parts; the whole is all that contains the meaning of the word.
  • "When we speak of construction of the word< it seems that there are as many eras as elements in the word>; it is on the contrary contemporary in all its parts, it bursts forth in speech armed with all its elements." (91A)
  • "We will therefore have to recognize--to a very verying degree depending on the language--a certain mass of productive <fertile> words and another of unproductive <infertile> words because we can get nothing out of them except themselves.  In Chinese nothing is analysable, in an artificial language like Esperanto everything is analysable." (91a)
  • agglutinations: when two distinct words become united into a seperate and single word
  • different from analogical creation since the latter involves dealing with word fragments instead of word + word
  • agglutinations therefore are more or less "constructions" whereas analogical is better termed "creation"
  • "It is thus that if we consider the age of the elements of words, we see that analogy is obliged always to work on the same material and that in this perpetual renovation there is something extremely conservative: the language is a dress made of bits and pieces of fabric.  Four-fifths of french is Indo-European: a given word is not Indo-European, but its elements are.  The words that have been handed down without analogical change are very few and would fit within the space of a page." (97a)
  • "The first effect of analogy is to save the elements of forms by always reusing them for new transformations." (97a)
  • "bloody", in english comes from "by Lady" as in "By the holy virgin" or "by The Lady."  (100a) [paraphrase]
  • Diachronic domain of language = the successive states of language within a single state
    • Phonetic Phenomenon
    • Analogical Creation
    • Pathological Creation (i.e. popular etymology)
  • Prospective viewpoint starts at earlier period and ends in the later; retrospective viewpoint vice versa
  • Linguistics is fundimentally retrospective.  To get to the prospective view you have to start retrospectively; analytical=retrospective, synthetic=prospective
  • Different types of Languages:  (based on structure)
    1. Languages of flexional type (indo-european)
    2. Languages of monosyllabic type (indivisble vocables)
    3. Languages of agglutinating and polysynthetic type
  • Reconstructive method and its value:
  • "The first operation for getting back to the initial period of a language was to see if one could, and how one could reconstruct" [dude.  this is what I've been proposing to do with Buddhism all along.  God forbid I start "reconstructivism" but damn.  If the Siddhartha's teachings are lost in exegesis and transliteration, the only available method to return to his root teaching is the comparitive study of philosophical-historical systems.]
  • The Identity of the comparitive method and the reconstructive method:
    • "Every comparison is forced to express itself in the form of a reconstruction on pain of being senseless.  Both methods ultimately reduce to one.  However, the first operation always remains comparison. " (111a)
    • we have one word in two languages or two words in the same language as the cases of comparison.
    • "Linguistic comparison is thus not a mechanical operation but implies bringing together of all the data which are capable of providing an explanation... But all comparisons are sterile if they do not issue in a more or less certain conjecture which is capable of holding up in a given formulation" (112a)
    • gives several examples of using evolution in one language to substantiate a conjecture of evolution in another language...
  • The Aim of these reconstructions, their certainty:
    • "The aim is not to reconstruct words, which would be fairly rediculous, but to condense, to crystalize, to concentrate a set of conclusions we take to be correct according to the results obtainable at each moment." (115a)
    • "It would be very difficult to create a prospective view for explaining the changes which have occured in time since the prehistoric period if prior to this we had not reconstructed." (115a).
    • "one is tempted to think reconstructions much less sure than they are; two facts lead us to presume a fairly great certainty in reconstruction: 1)  Every word is composed of phonic elements whose number is perfectly limited, which are not in an indefinite order. 2) There will not happen to be four or five elements which fail to recur at least a dozen times in a language..." (116a)
    • ..."it is different from every other sound, that is what is essential for each element of language... We should go much further with this observation and consider every value of the language as oppositive, and not as positive, absolute." (116a)
    • "we may therefore enjoy a little latitude in our reconstruction, but this latitude is fixed by the values which the language has taken as being in opposition." (117a)
© 2003 Hudson Cress. All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be used in any way without the explicit written consent of Hudson Cress. For more information, visit