Ferdinand de Saussure

Roy Harris
Table of contents

Saussure, Ferdinand-Mongin de (1857–1913) was arguably the most influential linguistic theorist of modern times, and indisputably the key figure in the transition between the linguistics of the nineteenth century and the linguistics of the twentieth. His two major works, the Mémoire sur le système des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (1879) and the posthumously published Cours de linguistique générale (1916), the latter based on lecture notes taken by his students, epitomize the contrast between two radically different ways of looking at language. The first adopts the perspective of traditional comparative and historical philology. The second adopts what was subsequently to be called the perspective of ‘structuralism’ (although structuralisme was never a term Saussure himself used). To say that Saussure's two major works between them bridge the gap between these two perspectives would be misleading; for, in spite of all that has been written subsequently on the subject, the gap remains unbridgeable.

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