This chapter provides a description of Saussure’s theory of language. According to this theory, the linguistic system in each individual’s brain is constructed from experience. The process of construction depends on the associative principles of contrast, similarity, contiguity and frequency. The principle of contrast prevents confusion or interference between linguistic units by making them distinct from each other. The principle of similarity captures aspects of rule-governed behaviour by defining classes of intersubstitutable units which constrain combinatory processes. The principle of contiguity allows more complex units to be formed from the combination of simpler units. This principle also allows the products of the linguistic system to be integrated into the system in much the same way that mathematical formulae, which are the products of mathematical systems, become integral components of mathematical knowledge. The principle of frequency enables frequently occurring units to be recognised as stable units. It also enables abstract categories to be induced when a sufficient number of units turn out to have similar properties. It will be shown how the interaction of these principles enables the theory to incorporate rule-based and experience-based perspectives on language as well as giving the theory a certain psychological plausibility.
- Speech Sound
- Language User
- Linguistic Structure
- Linguistic Unit
- Sound Pattern
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© 2003 Ngoni Chipere
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Chipere, N. (2003). Saussure’s Theory of Language. In: Understanding Complex Sentences. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230005884_7
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN: 978-1-349-43102-1
Online ISBN: 978-0-230-00588-4