April 4, 2024

Ferdinand de Saussure: The father of linguistics (1857)

by Mateusz Wiącek

Ferdinand de Saussure, born in Switzerland in 1857, is regarded as the founder of modern linguistics. He laid the foundation for many of the developments in linguistics in the twentieth century. He became a polyglot by the age of 15, as he had learned Greek, French, German, English, and Latin.

De Saussure is most famous for distinguishing between different aspects of language:

  1. Langage is the human language, the human biological ability to speak;
  2. Langue refers to a language in the sense of a particular single language such as French or German;
  3. Parole is speaking, the concrete use of language, the generation of the actual sounds.

Basically he looked at language in a similar way to how it’s seen today. 
Course in General Linguistics was first published in 1916, three years after Saussure’s death in 1913. The book is a compilation of Saussure’s lectures on linguistics, delivered at the University of Geneva between 1907 and 1911.

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