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Signification and Meaning: A Critique of the Saussurean Conception of the Sign Author(s): Jeffrey Barnouw Reviewed work(s): Source:

Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, Papers of the Seventh Triennial Meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association (Sep., 1981), pp. 260-271 Published by: Penn State University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40246264 . Accessed: 30/10/2012 00:13
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Significationand Meaning: A Critique of the Saussurean Conception of the Sign

JEFFREY BARNOUW A predominant tendency of modern literary theory has been to stress the autonomy of literature, understood as a self-sufficiency, first of the work, then of the literary tradition, and finally of the literary 'code'. In its last phase this tendency has been supported by the programmatic assumption that Saussureanlinguistics provides a model for the study of literature, and by corresponding attempts to situate literary study within a semiotics of a particular type. That version of semiotics is founded on a system-immanent definition of the sign, which implies the priority (if not the apriority) of the code and which methodologically isolates signification from reference. In this paper I offer a critique of the Saussureanconception, as a preliminary to confronting it with a different conception of signprocesses, in the hope of opening up the guiding assumptions of literary study that concern the source and resources of meaning. In the writings of Peirce and Dewey an understanding of the workings of signs is elaborated which includes as an essential element the interpretation of perceiving and thinking as instances of semiosis relying on natural-signrelations. With regard to the essential role of reference in maintaining the real possibilities of signification, this pragmatist approach is fundamentally opposed not only to versions of semiotic deriving from Saussure but also to the version put forward by Charles Morris. Unlike Morris or Barthes or Eco or so-called post-structuralists who view the recourse to reference as immaterial to and reductive of literary signification, Peirce and Dewey insist on the continuity of function between natural and artificial signs. The relations of artificial or conventional signs that are sustained by natural languages (and extended in deliberately constructed sign-systems or artificial languages) are possible, for Peirce and Dewey, only on the basis of the relations of natural signs that make up the associational fabric of experience. Reference to reality is an inherent constituent of signs at this level, and the representational nature of sense and thought is a foundation for signification and meaning at all higher levels of abstraction and artificial elaboration.
1981 Boardof Trusteesof the Universityof Illinois 0010-4132/81/0900- 0260/101.20/0 260



From this broader understanding of the function of signs in human life and culture, which has a long and rich tradition, one may gain a different perspective on the connection between experiential significance and linguistic meaning, as well as on the connections between natural language and 'poetic language.' To clear the way for consideration of such questions,1 I undertake here only to show the inadequacy of the contrary semiotic approach. I. The SaussureanConception of the Sign In his Course in General Linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure included in the scope of his new science, along with the traditional objectives of historical linguistics, two basic tasks, "b) to determine the forces that are permanently and universally at work in all languages, . . . and c) to delimit and define itself."2 In one important respect these two goals turned out to be at odds with one another. Nowhere in the established fields could he "find the integral object of linguistics," and thus he undertook to construe "language as the norm of all other manifestations of speech," that is, methodologically to separate capacity from performance and define it in isolation from the relation of speaker to situation. In separatinglanguage from speaking we are at the same time separating:
1) what is social from what is individual; and 2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental. Language is not a function of the speaker; it is a product that is passively assimilated by the individual . . . Language is a well-defined object in the heterogeneous mass of speech facts. It can be localized in the limited segment of the speaking-circuit where an auditory image becomes associated with a concept.

Thus, in order to constitute a suitable matter for the new science of linguistics, Saussure so defines language as to restrict it a) to the connection between signifier (sound image in the mind) and signified (concept or 'meaning') - the mental association that constitutes the sign and signification - and b) to the system of differential and associative relations between signs within the mental lexicon, relations which give a sign its 'value'. With respect to signification language "is a system of signs in which the only essential thing is the union of meanings and sound-images, and in which both parts of the sign are psychological." Correspondingly, at the equally basic level of differentiation, "language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others," in associative or syntagmatic relation. Reflecting on linguistic facts such as that the French verb louer,



('to rent/ like its English counterpart but) unlike its German counterpart, serves to designate either side of the bargain, Saussure concludes,
Instead of pre-existing ideas then, we find . . . values emanating from the system. When they are said to correspond to concepts, it is understood that the concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system. Their most precise characteristic is in being what the others are not.

The idea that the co-existence of related terms within a semantic field affects the scope of each is absolutized here with the intended effect of eliding that factor in the meaning-capacity of language which depends on its being continually related to reality in and through experience. The claim that "concepts are purely differential" is deliberately one-sided, and it is not surprisingthat it succeeded in provoking empiricist response. Ogden and Richards criticize Saussure for 'concocting* la langue as "a suitable object" for his linguistics, arguingthat "as a guiding principle for a young science it is fantastic." Quoting this passage, Fredric Jameson counters that "what Ogden and Richards really object to in Saussure is precisely the dialectical quality of his thought. The vice of Anglo-American empiricism lies indeed in its stubborn will to isolate the object in question from everything else."3 But this is ratherjust what they, with far greaterjustification, are reproachingSaussure for. The idea that his "dialectical" approach, "being relational rather than substantialist, . . . thus strikes directly at the kind of isolation of a single apparently free-standing element (such as a 'statement') foreseen by empirical thinking," is nonsense when applied to them. "Symbols direct and organize, record and communicate," Ogden and Richards write, "It is Thought (or, as we shall usually say, reference) which is directed and organized, . . . recorded and communicated." Thought is taken to be intrinsically referential. Words " 'mean' nothing by themselves," for "it is only when a thinker makes use of them that they stand for anything." This "referential use" is thus the backbone of language for them, a point which is too often obscured by excessive emphasis on their contrast between referential and emotive uses. It is this referentiality of language in use that Saussure seeks to elide. Saussure claims, "to prove that language is only a system of pure values, it is enough to consider the two elements involved in its functioning: ideas and sounds," and with regardto the first he argues, "psychologically our thought - apart from its expression in words is only a shapeless and indistinct mass." But this is an open question, and a deep one. To what extent thinking can go on apart from language might be seen as a basic issue, corresponding to and indeed connected with the question of imageless thinking that has occupied



philosophers since Aristotle. When Saussure says, "philosophers and linguists have always agreed in recognizing that without the help of signs we would be unable to make a clear-cut, consistent distinction between two ideas," he simply finesses the problem. To claim that language is, on the one hand, prior and necessary to thought, and, on the other, essentially indifferent in its categorical structures to any empirical differentiations and identifications within perception, is to frustrate - from the beginning - every attempt to understand how 'positive content' might become associated with a linguistic sign, and how experience could be taken up into language. To claim that signification is made possible solely by formal differentiation, by establishing relative 'values' pure in their superiority to reference, means to ignore the necessary contribution to signification of the animal capacity of sensation which Aristotle recognized as a power to differentiate and which later thinkers saw as working through natural signs. A crucial and questionable assumption of Saussure's definition of the sign is that what is signified by a given signifier (or sound image) is fixed as a meaning or concept in the mind of a speaker apart from particular acts of reference and communication. This assumption is only reinforced where emphasis is shifted to difference or opposition between signs as the articulating principle of the mental lexicon. For an essential power of language is precisely to make new differentiations - and identifications - in individual situations, in contexts that cannot be foreseen. This is not to argue from the "creative aspect" of language that is championed by Chomsky, which is seen as resting on an "innate schematism" in the mind, in need of experience only to activate and then specify it. Indeed, the objections directed here against structural linguistics would apply as well to Chomsky, in that the distinction of competence from performance brings with it most of the liabilities of the parallel langue/parole distinction, above all its neglect of the indispensable role of experiential context as a determinant of meaning. Seen from the vantage point of 'competence', which is the linguist's defining interest, 'performance' as a focus of study seems to be only a matter of individual factors that account for deviations from the norms of ideal competence.4 The same one-sidedness is evident in Chomsky's approach to language acquisition. For him the problem, and marvel, is that "the child learns the principles of sentence formation and sentence interpretation on the basis of a corpus of data that consists, in large measure, of sentences that deviate in form from the idealized structures defined by the grammarthat he develops."5 Chomsky thus sees no problem in conceiving of language acquisition in terms of a 'black box' in which the input is specimen sentences and the output new



sentences which demonstrate a tacit or practical knowledge of generative principles, or competence.6 But "the data to which the child is exposed" in learning to speak could never be simply sentences, but is rather other people using language as part of daily activities. In reacting so decisively against the conception of reinforcement in accounts of Verbal behavior,' Chomsky has produced a theoretical device that corresponds to the Skinner box, insulating the child not only from models of actual speaking, and corrective and corroborative communication, but also from the common world of experience as the locus of shared reference, and this last is an indispensable foundation for mastering the power of language. It does not justify the elision of the role of experiential context in Saussure, conversely, to suggest that "langue is not so much the power to speak as it is the power to understand speech."7 As Hobbes once wrote, in an approach which is usually understood one-sidedly (and even on that side misunderstood) as 'nominalism', "there is nothing universal but names; which are therefore called indefinite, because we limit them not ourselves, but leave them to be applied by the hearer." Thus in understanding the language of other men, Hobbes says, "we are to consider the drift, and occasion, and contexture of the speech, as well as the words themselves."8 The power of language to make new differentiations and identifications in individual situations points to an attunement to experiential context that is fundamental to the constitution of language, and not merely to its application. The spontaneous capacity of language can only be recognized fully in its interdependence with experience. It is essentially the integration of language in people's dealings with one another and with their common world that gives rise to and maintains meanings and meaning. It is thus a distortion to regardlanguage as either the repository or the creative source of 'meanings' apart from its continual, constitutive involvement in experience through shared reference to realities. II. SaussureanSemiology The arguments I have begun to present may seem excessive, even irrelevant, as a response to Saussure's definition of the sign, which was expressly put forward as what was required for the foundation of a strictly defined science.9 It should be remarked, then, that immediately after defining the sign as the relation of signifier and signified, that is, in terms which deliberately exclude questions of reference as well as of communication and the influence which these extramental relations might have on signification, Saussure goes on to project the integration of linguistics into a comprehensive science which



he calls 'semiology': "a science that studies the life of signs in the midst of the life of society."10 Does this mean that Saussure will correct or compensate for the methodologically necessitated one-sidedness of the linguistic definition of the sign through the use of complementary perspectives? At first it might seem so. "To determine the exact place of semiology is the task of the psychologist," he writes, "it would be part of social psychology," or, in another account, part of sociology.11 But as he continues, the semiological perspective seems rather to cut beneath, if not to undercut, a psychological approach. The psychologist who studies the sign-mechanismin the individual "does not reach the sign, which is social," and "when signs are studied from a social viewpoint, only those traits that attach language to other social institutions those that are more or less voluntary - are emphasized." The defining trait of language and of all semiological systems would thus be "completely ignored. For the distinguishing characteristic of the sign ... is that it always eludes the individual or social will." This is evidently what Saussure meant by "the life of signs," as when he later claims, "Of all social institutions, language is least amenable to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert by nature, is a prime conservative force."12 At the same time, Saussure claims that "the arbitrarinessof language radically separates it from all other institutions." "Unlike language, other human institutions customs, laws, etc. - are all based in varying degrees on the natural relations of things." There are a number of confusions clustered about Saussure's notion of arbitrariness.If we are to understand how even the signification and relative values of signs in a linguistic system can be seen to depend on differentiations, identifications and associations that are rooted in 'natural sign' relations, we must attempt to clarify several loosely related confusions about the arbitrarycharacter of the sign. The core of the notion has to do with whether there is any necessity or 'motivation' to the relation between signifier and signified. The sign, as a unity of sound-image and concept, is arbitraryor conventional in the sense that there is no resemblance or iconic relation between signifier and signified, barring onomatopoeia. 'Symbol' is a term sometimes reserved for a sign with iconic 'motivation', and arbitrary signs are considered 'artificial' in contrast to iconic or 'natural signs.'1* This usage should be distinguished from the sense in which 'natural sign' is the key to perception and thought for Ockham or for Hobbes (different but complementary conceptions that coalesce in the epistemology of Helmholtz), which is closer to an 'index' than an 'icon' in the terminology of Peirce, (who reserves the term 'symbol' for conventional signs!) In the Course in General Linguistics linguistics, as "a system of pure



values," is contrasted with economics, in which values are "somehow rooted in things and in their natural relations . . . (the value of a plot of ground, for instance, is related to its productivity)." A value of this sort "can to some extent be traced in time. ... Its link with things gives it, perforce, a natural basis, and the judgments that we base on such values are therefore never completely arbitrary."14By contrast, the differential character of linguistic 'value' would thus seem to locate the arbitrarycharacter of the sign in its relations to other signs. Pushing further in the same direction, Jonathan Culler interprets Saussure to be claiming that "since there are no fixed universal concepts, . . . the signified itself is arbitrary."A language sets up a relation between signifiers "and signifieds of its own choosing." "Each language produces a different set of signifieds; it has a distinctive and thus 'arbitrary'way of organizing the world into concepts or categories."15 There is a logical slip or sleight of mind in the transition: "distinctive and thus 'arbitrary',"just as there is a significant gap between Culler's example of the discrepancy of semantic differentiations between 'fleuve' and 'riviere' in French and 'river' and 'stream' in English, and his conclusion that language "can divide up a spectrum of conceptual possibilities in any way it likes." What could be meant here by 'conceptual possibilities'? If there is a spectrum already given, a 'semantic field' which each language may stake out and subdivide in a distinctive way but does not create, then language is evidently both limited and sustained by a relation of mind and world that is more fundamental than language. The fact of semantic change points not to the independence of signs and thus of signifieds from the constraints of reference, but rather to the constitutive interdependence of signification, reference and experience. Although the notion of the arbitrarycharacter of signifieds, taken in the sense of meanings or concepts, has been the most influential element in what structuralism and post-structuralismhave derived from Saussure, it may be doubted that the idea is to be found in his work. Culler points out that Saussure "never deals with the problems of semantic change itself, the diachronic alterations of signifieds,"16 and that such explanation "would have to refer to nonlinguistic factors or causes (social changes, psychological processes, etc.) whose effects happened to have repercussions for the semantic system." Culler swings from the claim of semantic autonomy for language to an exaggerated concession that meaning shifts are 'externally caused'. If Saussure did not hold that signifieds in the sense of concepts are arbitrary,then the objection to his definition of the sign would only be that it hypostatized signifieds as determinate in meaning apart from their use in reference, that is, in the engagement of reality in discourse, which reaches far beyond direct predication. In this sense Quine has recommended that we "turn our backs on the supposititious



entities called meanings."17 By attempting to isolate signification from reference, and by emphasizing the role of individual terms differentially defined, Saussure inadvertently underscored the problematic status of 'meanings' as identified with concepts. The prevalent French notion, seconded by Culler, that concepts are wholly arbitrary, that they reflect an unmotivated distribution of signification, quite independent of and even determining the discrimination of what is significant or meaningful in our experience, should be seen as a working out of the consequences of simultaneously focusing on and undermining 'meanings'. An opposite claim, which may simply point to the same proton pseudos from a different angle, has been made by Emile Benveniste, who maintains that the argument that the "sign is arbitrarybecause it 'actually has no natural connection with the signified,' ... is falsified [i.e. invalidated] by an unconscious and surreptitious recourse to a third term which was not included in the initial definition. This third term is the thing itself." Taking him 'at his word' with regard to the indivisibility of signifier and signified, Benveniste argues that when Saussure "spoke of the difference between b-o-fand o-k-s, he was referringin spite of himself to the fact that these two terms applied to the same reality. Here, then, is the thing, expressly excluded at first from the definition of the sign, now creeping into it by a detour, and permanently installing a contradiction there."18 Benveniste seems to me to be pointing to a phenomenon which has allowed structuralism to survive itself into post-structuralism: pervasive tacit reliance on references to reality as a source of content and consistency for the supposedly autonomous differentiation and play of signifiers among themselves. I am merely stating a suspicion, which might be dissipated - or reinforced - by a closer reading of the 'canonical' texts,19 and it is not for verification but only to illustrate what I mean that I turn to an example which Culler has adapted from Saussure. In the context of a discussion of 'synchronie identity' in the Course in General Linguistics it is pointed out that "we speak of the identity of two '8:25 p.m. Geneva-to-Paris'trains that leave at twenty-four hour intervals. We feel that it is the same train each day, yet everything - the locomotive, coaches, personnel - is probably different." That makes sense. But in Culler's version the claim is quite different, "What gives the train its identity is its place in the system of trains, as indicated by the timetable." To make this assimilation to the semiological perspective unmistakable Culler adds, "And note that this relational identity is indeed the determining factor: the train remains the same train even if it leaves a half-hour late. . . . What is important is that it be distinguished from, say, the 10:25 Geneva-to-ParisExpress, the 8:40 Geneva-to-Dijon Local, and so on."20



It is striking to note how much is said with that little word 'say': it betrays an awareness that it makes no difference at all which trains the '8:25 Geneva-to-Paris'is differentiated from in any so-called 'system of trains.' What identifies it is its destination and time of departure. It may leave late, that is hardly relevant, but its scheduling is far from arbitrary.In setting times of departure the human or social clock is a decisive factor. Nor is it relatively, differentially, that the train is identified by its route, for the terms or terminals of the transportation system are determined - not immanently, through formal oppositions within a closed system of pseudo signs, but - empirically by real factors such as population centers, land formations, and commercial relations. If one were able to isolate a semiological dimension of a 'system of trains,' - behind 'the timetable as text' - it would clearly be an example of what Saussure considered 'values' "somehow rooted in things and in their natural relations." Saussure was ambivalent about the inclusion of such systems in the scope of semiology. He certainly meant to make the linguistic definition of the sign basic to its constitution. But at one point he foresaw, "when semiology becomes organized as a science, the question will arise whether or not it properly includes modes of expression based on completely natural signs."21 He seems to have felt that their incorporation would be possible only when it was shown that they had been assimilated to convention. "Signs that are wholly arbitraryrealize better than the others the ideal of the semiological process. ... In this sense linguistics can become the master-pattern for all branches of semiology." It is a paradox of subsequent semiology, or semiotics in a Saussurean tradition, that while adhering to his linguistic definition of the sign, and deliberately, or at least overtly, excluding questions of reference, it has claimed to be centrally concerned with problems of human value and the sort of meaning that we attribute to or recognize in the objects of our experience, the objects of our endeavors. The context, for example, which Culler offers for understanding Saussure, by seeing him together with Freud and Durkheim, is insistent in its recourse to 'meaning' in the broad sense of meaningful elements of social practice as the essential semiotic focus,
Though the solutions and definitions he offers might initially seem of interest only to students of linguistics, they have direct bearing on the fundamental problems of what the French call the "human sciences": the disciplines which deal with the world of meaningful objects and actions (as opposed to physical objects and events themselves). Saussure's reflections on the sign and on sign-systems pave the way for amnerai study of the ways in which human experience is organized.

Against Culler's broad claims for Saussure it might be argued, on



the contrary, that his linguistic definition of the sign and its semiotic extrapolation serve precisely to block the way to any understanding of the ways in which human experience is organized. To grasp the phenomenon of meaning or experiential significance in its relation to linguistic meaning, or vice versa, is only possible through the understanding of discourse. In discourse language interacts with experience in an intimate and intricate way, answering the challenge of new experience by drawing on past experience as a principle resource of language that goes well beyond the distillation of previous usage and formulation. Furthermore, contrary to what Paul Ricoeur has suggested, discourse cannot be adequately thematized as a phenomenon or field complementary to Saussure'slangue. The role of reference must be recognized as fundamental to the constitution of the sign, and not merely to its use. A serious theory of discourse can only begin by rejecting and replacing the Saussurean definition of the sign. A far more viable basis for the theoretical understanding of discourse is to be found in the conception that the discursivity of the mind is fully present in sense-perception, conceived in terms of 'natural signs' and instinctive inference, which means that its discursive character is intrinsically linked with referentiality through the representational nature of perception and thought.
JEFFREY BARNOUW Boston University
NOTES 1.1 have sketched the modern development of the 'sign-theory of perception and thinking' briefly in "The Philosophical Achievement and Historical Significance of Johann Nicolas Te tens," Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, vol. 9, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 301-335, pp. 312-27 and nn. 18-26. 1 trace it in greater detail and scope in a paper given in January 1981 to the Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science, "The Sign-Theory of Perception and Thought: From Chrysippus through Helmholtz to Peirce and Dewey." The critical approach of the present paper is extended in a sequel, "Metaphor and Meaning," given in February 1981 to the Literary Symposium at Brown University. I hope to publish both these papers. 2. 1 quote from Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), p. 6. Further quotations in the following paragraphs are from pp. 9, 14 and 15; 114, 117 and 11 If. This is a translation, by Wade Baskin, of the text edited, which is to say, put together, by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye with the collaboration of Albert Riedlinger from lecture transcriptions of the course which Saussure gave three times in his last years. As Jonathan Culler, Ferdinand de Saussure (New York: Penguin, 1976), p. xvi, has said, Saussure's "influence, both within and beyond linguistics, is based on something he never wrote," cf. pp. 5f. Like Culler I am concerned mainly with the 'Saussure' of the text "composed" by his colleagues, although I find their "bold decision ... to attempt a synthesis" took them even farther beyond Saussure than Culler acknowledges. He mentions three respects in which "the editors seem to have taken liberties, misunderstood, or falsified Saussure's thought," including the order of presentation, which "does not reflect the potential logical sequence of his argument," (cf. below, note 9) and closely related to this point, "the notion of the arbitrary nature of the sign" which "receives much less discussion than it does



in the notes,'* (although in his own extension of this notion, which goes beyond Saussure's intention as I argue below, at notes 15 and 16, Culler does not draw on the now published notes.) Robert Godel, Les Sources manuscrites du Cours de linguistique gnrale (Geneva: Droz, 1957), is a fine analysis and critique of what was done by the editors. It prepared the way for, but is not, as Culler suggests, p. 134, "largely superseded" by, the critical edition by Rudolf Englcr (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967-74). 3.CK. Ogden and LA. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning (New York: Harcourt, Brace, n.d.), pp. 4f. Quotations in the next paragraph are from pp. 9f. Their treatment of 'Signs in Perception' (Chapter 4) is unfortunately weak. Jameson, The Prison-House of Language (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 23f., but see the reversal in his conclusion, pp. 21 Of. 4. Paul Ricoeur's critique of the structuralist conception of the sign relies on Chomsky's idea of the 'creative aspect" of language; I consider Ricoeur's approach in "Metaphor and Meaning" (note 1). Re Chomsky's apriorisra see "Recent Contributions to the Theory of Innate Ideas," in John R Searle d., The Philosophy of Language (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971), 121-44, p. 127. Cf. Chomsky, Language and Mind (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968), p. 76. On performance' cf. Jerrold J. Katz, "The Philosophical Relevance of Linguistic Theory," in Searle ed. The Philosophy of Language, 101-20, p. 107. 5. Chomsky, "Recent Contributions," in Searle ed. The Philosophy of Language, p. 125. 6JbicL, pp. 121ff. cf. "Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar," as excerpted in ibid., 71-100, pp. 80f. 7.Jameson, Prison-House of Language, p. 26. At this point Jameson adds in a note, "The originality of Chomsky's transformational grammar seems to derive from a reversal of the Saussurean model, a kind of negation of the negation in which the linguistic mechanisms are relocated back in the parole or individual act of speech." Even the Chomskyan criticism of Saussure which Jameson goes on to quote shows that this bit of dialectic misreads Chomsky. 8.Hobbes, Human Nature, ch. 5, 6 and 8, in The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, ed. Ferdinand Tnnies (London: Frank Cass, 1969), pp. 20f. 9. Culler, pp. 28f., argues that the organization given to the Course by the editors, in starting from the distinction between langue and parole, improperly made it seem that Saussure began with the postulate of a linguistic system, "a postulate which had to be accepted on faith if one were to proceed." Without any supporting quotation Culler continues, "But in fact, as Saussure's notes suggest and as the sequence of argument which we have adopted here [cf. p. 6: "the potential logical sequence of his argument,"] should have demonstrated, the distinction between langue and parole is a logical and necessary consequence of the arbitrary nature of the sign and the problem of identity in linguistics. . . . The isolation of la langue is not, as the published Course may suggest, an arbitrary point of departure but a consequence of the nature of the signs themselves." Does Culler mean to suggest that the 'nature' of the sign is an essence and not itself the result of methodologically self-conscious definition? How does this fit in with the sort of awareness which he sees as exemplary in Saussure that one "must choose a perspective, and that within this perspective objects are defined by their relations with one another, rather than bv essences" (d. xv. 10. Course in General Linguistics, p. 16, translation corrected. ll.Ibid, p. 16. Cf. Godel, Les Sources manuscrites, p. 181, 275. Adrien Naville, Nouvelle classification des sciences (Paris, 1901 2), p. 104, referred to Saussure as advocating a general science of semiology as an essential part of sociology. \2.Course in General Linguistics, pp. 17, 74. Cf. p. 73, "the arbitrary nature of the sign is really what protects language from any attempt to modify it." But if "collective inertia toward innovation" as a basic property of society tends to remove language from individual initiative, this inertia is itself continual movement, a stream rather than a stasis. "Language is radically powerless to defend itself against the forces which from one moment to the next are shifting the relationship between the signified and the signifier." This ceaseless change "is one of the consequences of the arbitrary nature of the sign" (p. 75). This is the context in which Saussure's idea of the system itself as a source of relative motivation, a sort of acquired naturalness, must be understood. "Everything that relates to language as a system



must, I am convinced, be approached from this viewpoint. . . : the limiting of arbitrariness." "The mechanism of language is but a partial correction of a system that is by nature chaotic [insofar as it] is based on the irrational principle of the arbitrariness of the sign" (p. 133). 13. Course in General Linguistics, p. 68. Stephen Ullmann, "Natural and Conventional Signs," in Thomas A. Sebeok, d., The Tell-Tale Sign. A Survey of Semiotics (Lisse, Netherlands: Peter De Ridder, 1975), 103-110. 14. Course in General Linguistics, p. 80. It should be noted that the parallel between the signifier-signified relation and the relation between labor and wages, with the implicit exclusion of the market, is not Saussure's own. (p. 79). 15. Culler, Saussure, pp. 14f. Subsequent quotation from pp. 15f. 16. Ibid., p. 40. Further quotation, p. 41. Cf. p. 67. 17.Williard Van Oman Quine, "The Problem of Meaning in Linguistics," in From a Logical Point of View (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), p. 48. In "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," in ibid., p. 22, Quine writes, "The Aristotelian notion of essence was the forerunner, no doubt, of the modern notion of intension or meaning." "Meaning is what essence becomes when it is divorced from the object of reference and wedded to the word ... A felt need for meant entities may derive from an earlier failure to appreciate that meaning and reference are distinct Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the primary business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analycity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned." 18. Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, tr. Mary Elizabeth Meek, (Coral Gables: Univ. of Miami Press, 1971), p. 44. Jameson, Prison-House of Language, p. 30n., finds Benveniste's critique "both true and misleading." In another connection Culler, Saussure, p. 27, writes, "There are certain philosophical problems here which Saussure did not tackle; in particular, philosophers would want to say that what Saussure calls the signification of an utterance involves both meaning and reference. But Saussure's point is that there is one kind of meaning, a relational meaning or value, which is based on the linguistic system, and another kind of meaning or signification which involves the use of linguistic elements in actual situations of utterance." He does not expand on this. 19. But see my reviews of Michel Foucault, Language Counter-Memory, Practice, and of Jacques Derrida, Edmund HusserVs *Originof Geometry* and Writingand Difference, in the 20. Course in General Linguistics, p. 108; Culler, Saussure, p. 20. 21. Course in General Linguistics, p. 68. The illustrative example "pantomime - drawing on yet another sense of 'natural signs,' i.e. gesture, was added by the editors, Godel, Les Sources manuscrites, p. 123. 22. Culler, Saussure, pp. xviif. Cf. pp. 58f., "When Saussure argues that meaning is diacritical' or differential, based on differences between terms and not on intrinsic properties of terms themselves, his claim concerns not only language but the general human process in which the mind creates meaning by distinguishing." Culler's implication that such discrimination is arbitrary must be rejected. Wherever the mind has a motive to differentiate that pertains to the object, that would not be the mind's creating. For, as Dewey's theory of significance and meaning maintains, meaning is created precisely where language enables the mind to make a difference that makes a difference. To want to derive experiential meaning from pure difference is self-defeating.

vol. 32, no. 4, (June 1979), 750-2, andvol. 33, no. 1, (September Reviewof Metaphysics, 1979), 168-74.