Saussure's Contributions To Linguistics Oxford University – General Linguistics Essay

2003 words - 9 pages

Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 – February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid the foundation for many of the significant developments in linguistics in the twentieth century. He is widely considered the "father" of twentieth century linguistics, and his work laid the foundation for the approach known as structuralism in the broader field of the social sciences. Although his work established the essential framework of future studies, his ideas contained many limitations and fundamental weaknesses as later scholars recognized that underlying structure and rules, while informative, cannot be the sole determinant of meaning and value in any social system.
Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1857, Ferdinand de Saussure was interested in languages early in his life. By age 15, he had learned Greek, French, German, English, and Latin, and at that age he also wrote an essay on languages .He began his education at the University of Geneva studying the natural sciences. He was there a year, and then convinced his parents to allow him to go to Leipzig in 1876 to study linguistics. Two years later at the age of 21, Saussure studied for a year in Berlin. He returned to Leipzig and was awarded his doctorate in 1880. Soon afterwards he relocated to Paris, where he would lecture on ancient and modern languages for eleven years before returning to Geneva in 1891. Living in Geneva, teaching Sanskrit and historical linguistics, he married there and had two sons. Saussure continued to lecture at the university for the remainder of his life. However, it was not until 1906 that Saussure began teaching the course of "General Linguistics" that would consume the greater part of his attention until his death in 1913.
While a student, Saussure published an important work in IndoEuropean philology that proposed the existence of a class of sounds in Proto-IndoEuropean called laryngeals, outlining what is now known as the "laryngeal theory." It has been argued that the problem he encountered, namely trying to explain how he was able to make systematic and predictive hypotheses from known linguistic data to unknown linguistic data, stimulated him to develop structuralism.
Saussure's most influential work, the Cours de linguistique générale (Course of General Linguistics), was published posthumously in 1916 by former students Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye on the basis of notes taken from Saussure's lectures at the University of Geneva. The Cours became one of the seminal linguistics works of the twentieth century, not primarily for the content (many of the ideas had been anticipated in the works of other nineteenth century linguists), but rather for the innovative approach that Saussure applied in discussing linguistic phenomena. Saussure made what became a famous distinction betw...


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