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Language in 1910 (and after): Saussure, Benjamin and Paris

Language in 1910 (and after): Saussure, Benjamin and Paris Ken Hirschkop It is the autumn of 1910, and Ferdinand de Saussure has embarked on a series of lectures on general linguistics for the third time. He begins with the by now familiar point that the object of linguistics should not be the faculty which we all possess as individuals ­ the `faculty which can be called the faculty of articulated language' ­ but the social institution, the language system, that allows us to make use of this faculty.1 But there is a problem for linguists: there is not simply a language system, there are many. `What is given', he says, `is not only the language [la langue], but languages [les langues]' (Third Course 9a.). And `[a]s far as linguistics is concerned, the diversity of languages is indeed the fundamental fact' (Third Course 12a). This fundamental fact was the focal point for linguists in the nineteenth century, who misunderstood it more or less completely. The scholars who created the discipline of comparative philology spared no effort in describing and mapping this diversity, which they thought about with the help of some colourful organic metaphors. The different languages were like people or animals, in that they had a birth, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Language in 1910 (and after): Saussure, Benjamin and Paris

Modernist Cultures , Volume 8 (2): 200 – Oct 1, 2013

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© Edinburgh University Press 2013
Subject
Articles; Film, Media and Cultural Studies
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2013.0061
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Ken Hirschkop It is the autumn of 1910, and Ferdinand de Saussure has embarked on a series of lectures on general linguistics for the third time. He begins with the by now familiar point that the object of linguistics should not be the faculty which we all possess as individuals ­ the `faculty which can be called the faculty of articulated language' ­ but the social institution, the language system, that allows us to make use of this faculty.1 But there is a problem for linguists: there is not simply a language system, there are many. `What is given', he says, `is not only the language [la langue], but languages [les langues]' (Third Course 9a.). And `[a]s far as linguistics is concerned, the diversity of languages is indeed the fundamental fact' (Third Course 12a). This fundamental fact was the focal point for linguists in the nineteenth century, who misunderstood it more or less completely. The scholars who created the discipline of comparative philology spared no effort in describing and mapping this diversity, which they thought about with the help of some colourful organic metaphors. The different languages were like people or animals, in that they had a birth,

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2013

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