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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Roland Barthes: The Death of the Author (Ayushi Malhotra 1324121)

Text as said by Roland Barthes is not a line of words releasing a single theological meaning but a multi-dimensions space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. It is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture. A text is woven and draws to what we have as text and juxtaposes work with the text. Work is completed by the author whereas text by the scribe. The author has an ownership and a copyright and it together associates the idea of "author" which coincides with the birth of the capitalist.

Barthe gives us a shift from work to text where he says that there is no author. In place of author "reader" is born. Reading creates meaning and then author becomes the source of that meaning. Once the author is removed reference is given to the writer. If we take out the author the scripter remains. The word "author" like other words "father" "mother" etc. only performs a function. These notions have a meaning attached to it. Once the author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes futile. If there is no author then there is no meaning of the text. The reign of the author has been the reign of the critic. A critic's role was to discover what was originally intended by the author and consequently the death of the author is the death of the critic as well. In the multiplicity of writing, everything has to be disentangled and not deciphered. In precisely this way literature, by refusing to assign a "secret" or an ultimate meaning to text, liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary as it refuses god for science law and religion.

Barthes essay deals with the addresses the power of the author in reading and analysing writing. The total existence of writing is focused on the reader and not the writer. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up the writing are inscribed without any of them being lost. The reader holds more responsibility to the text than the author. The complexity of different connotations and experiences that come from the author to the text are flattened by the time it reaches the reader. The reader comes empty handed and is impersonalized with the text. Barthe makes a point that the origin of the work may lie with the author but its destination is with the reader.

Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; writer is only person in literature. Barthe concludes by saying that the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.



Class notes by Anil Pinto taken on 19th December 2013

Roland Barthe: The Death of the Author

The Death of the Author: critical summary: Roland Barthes

Notes prepared by Ayushi Malhotra

The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes (Anushka Chowdhury 1324120)


Barthes's 'The Death of the Author' illustrates the movement from work to text. According to him in the place of author the reader is born as only reading enables the textual understanding of meaning and reality. He gives importance to the plurality of meaning, thereby establishing the concept of multiple texts.

While Barthes begins the essay with an example taken from Balzac's novella Sarrasine, from the second paragraph, he starts discussing the importance of language and marginalizes the author. Barthes argues that for effective and productive reading of a text one has to suspend the preconceived ideas about the author and even about human psychology. Associating the author with the text limits the scope of his work. The author, in modern times, takes up the role of a mediator or a medium for the transfer of meaning through language. According to Barthes, it is not a conscious decision but his role is to assemble all the available resources and tell the tale. He also points out that the idea of an individual author is a modern one and a societal construct "…emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation..."

In the next section, Barthes highlights how different authors project the author. Though the sway of the author remains to be powerful, some writers have attempted to loosen it, challenging the centrality of author. Mallarmé recognized that it is "language which speaks, not the author." Valéry stressed the "essentially verbal condition" of literature. Proust distorts the relation between the writer and his characters. And surrealism, "contributed to the desacralization of the image of the Author" by stressing the disappointment of expectations of meaning. Whereas, Linguistics has shown that diction is an empty process as "…the author is never more than the instance writing…language knows a 'subject', not a 'person', and this subject empty out- side of the very enunciation which defines it."

Barthes also discusses how the removal of the author transforms the modern text. According to him, there is no author but only an idea of the author, much alike the idea of a teacher-whoever performs the function of teaching can become a teacher. The concept of the scriptor has replaced the author, who neither precedes nor 'fathers' the text. A scriptor is rather born simultaneously with the text. In writing, the modern scriptor traces a field with no origin, or at least one which has "no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins". Therefore, it benefits someone economically to be called a scriptor to avoid labeling. It is liberating for a writer as it does not carry the burden of the author. However, the question still continues to bother that whether it is so easy to deny the role of the individual who crystallizes it all and gives it a definite shape.



·         Original text: The Death of the Author

·         Classroom discussions and the lecture

·          M.A.R. Habib's "A History of Literary Criticism—From Plato to the Present"

·         The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism


(Notes of the lecture delivered on 18 December 2013 by Dr.Anil Pinto. Prepared by Anushka Chowdhury)







Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Post Structuralism

Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of mid-20th-century French and continental philosophers and critical theorists who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s. A major theme of post structuralism is instability in the human sciences, due to the complexity of humans themselves and the impossibility of fully escaping structures in order to study them.

Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Structuralism is an intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure modeled on language (i.e., structural linguistics) that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas a "third order" that mediates between the two. Post-Structuralists authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures. Writers whose work is often characterized as post-Structuralists include Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, and Julia Kristeva, although many theorists who have been called "post-Structuralists" have rejected the label.


Structuralism accuse the post-structuralism for not following through the implications of the views on language on which their intellectual systems are based. Structuralism holds that the language not really reflects and records the world but it shapes.Post structuralism opposes this view saying that we are entering into a world of absolute uncertainty because man has no access to anything that is beyond linguistic processing and theorist standard to measure anything. The fixed intellectual reference points are permanently renewed by properly taking on board what structuralism said about language. So post Structuralists anxiety over language is important to know  their concern. They say that the urge for language leads to go beyond in our traction and may cause confusion. It can express things we did not intent. The filler words like " I mean " etc. shows that the linguistic urge is not in our control always. To understand post-structuralism basic knowledge of structuralism and language (deviation towards structuralism) they criticize Structuralists conviction. Language is a system of rules but not applied to any other systems. Structuralists believe in common stable structuralism do not deviates  from this. Sign stand its own. Meaning is arbitrary, language is not natural fixed signifier- structuralism . Post structuralism subvert the notion of structuralism.


·          Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 10 December 2013 by Ass.Prof.Vijayaganesh prepared by Ani Mariam Philip)



Monday, December 16, 2013

‘Structuralism and Literary Criticism’ - Gerard Genette

Structuralism is a way to examines a literary text to arrive at their meaning, rather than the actual meanings of the text themselves. It is a study of structure wherever they occur. In the essay Genette analyses content, logics, grammars and semiotics. He is considering structuralism as a method to study literary criticism. In the beginning of the essay Genette is establishing difference between Bricoleur and Engineer, Art critic and Literary critic and a Writer and a Critic.                                                                                                                      Later on Genette moves to structuralism in literature and how it should engage with literature. He explains the importance of structuralism as follows:

·         Establishes the relation between the form and the message. It is concerned with the message too i.e, the bone structure.

·         Semantic phenomenon i.e, it attacks the meanings.

·         Larger unities of discourse i.e, system f Forms – code & System of meanings – meaning.

·         Study of structures wherever they occur.

Genette goes on to say that, Structuralism is not necessarily an intrinsic fact of nature but rather is a way of thinking and it tries to conceive structures rather than perceive them. In other words they are discovering, but are actually inventing. Criticism studies content, where as structuralism deals with language and its form. It is the explanation of texts or events in their own terms, not in relation to external causes. This is very clear from the example of Oedipus Rex. When one deals with text as an object, he reads biography and sociology structurally where they abandon psychological, sociological and explanations.                                                                                                                               He then moves on to how structuralism differs from others. Structuralism is not thematic analysis and it is in structures. New criticism is a structural methodology, even though it is not structuralism. In structural analysis of theme, it would be seen in relation of themes as a network of social meanings which constitute culture. Structuralist analysis is different from Marxism or psychoanalysis. According to Merleau-Ponty structuralism is related to ethnology. It is a way of thinking and requires us to transform ourselves.

Genette says when there is hermeneutics and when the text is available to us in that immediate way, then structural reading fades; but whenever we have to look more objectively, when we are transversing barriers of time, culture or interest, then the structural method. Genette goes on to suggest that the difference between hermeneutic and structural reading is a matter of the critical position of the critic. Genette suggests that topics is an area of study that structuralism can bring us to  the traditional subjects and forms of the culture. Creativity is in a sense structural, as it depends on our expectation, which it plays upon. As literature is a system, no work of literature is an autonomous whole; similarly, literature itself is not autonomous but is part of the larger structures of signification of the culture. Structuralism studies literature historically by studying it as it were in cross-section at different times, by seeing in what way literature divides up the traditional topics of the cultural imagination. A structural analysis of the construction of cultural meaning can thence replace the meaning of the individual instance, the particular work, while the meaning of the individual work is illumined and rendered more fully significant by being read in the context of its full systemic, cultural meaning.



·         Original text of Gerard Genette's essay "Structuralism and Literary Criticism"

·          Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 10 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Angel Joy)

Friday, December 13, 2013

notes on Gerard Genette

Myth Today -Roland Barthes

The second section of Roland Barthes' "Mythologies", titled "Myth Today", is a theoretical discussion of Barthes' program for myth analysis which is demonstrated in the first section of Mythologies. What Barthes terms as "myth" is in fact the manner in which a culture signifies and grants meaning to the world around it. According to Barthes, anything can be a myth, and he follows this approach throughout the examples in Mythologies. Barthes picks Saussure's theory and popular culture and develops the idea of semiotics further.


According to Barthes, myth is a form of signification. However myth is different from ordinary speech and language. Barthes follows Saussure's discussion regarding the nature of the linguistic sign and he characterizes myth a second class of signification. What was the sign in the first order of language (for example the signifier "cigarette" and the signified of an object made of paper and tobacco) turns into a signifier in the second order (signifying lung cancer). In other words, myth for Barthes is a realm of second class signification which could be seen as a cultural association, to distinguish from denotation.  With myth being a secondary system of signification in which the sign becomes a signifier, that process of signification takes the meaning of symbols in the myth to the realm of association, not denotation.


According to Barthes myth, as a form of speech, is not limited to lingual signs and other types of representation (visual, musical etc.) can also take part in a myth because they convey secondary meanings that surpass their referential denotation. Barthes gives the example of a magazine cover portraying a African child in uniform saluting the French flag. The first level of signification is the denotation one – the child saluting the flag. But in the second level of signification, that of myth and connotation, the sign becomes a signifier and the child hails France as a great empire.


Since myths do not convey their meaning directly but in a covert manner, Barthes calls his semiology of myths "a science of forms". In the picture, Barthes analyzes everything works together- the child, uniform, flag, salutation etc. to produce the desired meaning and to establish the myth.



Characteristics of myth

1. Myth is a type of speech

2. Relation between the form of the myth (the black soldier saluting) and concept(French imperialism) is unequal.

3. Form is poorer than the concept. (On the cover, the black soldier becomes simply a form for communication of the idea. Thus, the individual is robbed of his history and loses his individuality.)


·                    Original text of Roland Barthe's essay, "Myth Today"

·                    Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 6 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Anjali Menon)


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gerard Genette’s Structuralism and Literary Criticism

Gerard Genette's Structuralism and Literary Criticism

Before trying to attend on the above mentioned essay it is necessary to understand the very term Paratext. None of the students in class could come up with a clear- cut definition and to this Prof. Pinto replies that Paratext refers to that which is not a main text. To make it more simple; contexts, index, reviews, footnotes etc. are paratexts. Therefore, what Gerard Genette is known for is of his attempt to theorize Paratext for the first time. Hence, texts like prologue, epilogue, forward etc. are paratexts.

When Prof. Pinto began with the essay he made it very essential to point out that a reader must literally feel the text and says "if you can read it, touch it." For example if one is asked to write an essay/ paragraph on M A English, one might come up with good number of ideas, but what makes the essay unique in itself is the way how each paragraph is tied up together with coherence. It should be channelized in such a way that it becomes a thesis statement.

As the reading session began, Prof. Pinto made it clear that students must try to sum up or come up with the main idea of each paragraph. To start with, Genette in his first few lines introduces the reader to the word bricolage- "a kind of intellectual bricolage." Bricolage is something made or put together using whatever material is available. Prof. Pinto simplifies it by comparing it with the word collage which is to make an intellectual use of things which is viewed as unuseful or simply waste. Genette describes how literature uses the same material which it studies. It explains the nature of literary criticism and how it is a metalanguage and metaliterature in which discourses uses the discourses or literature uses the literature itself. Prof. Pinto also enlightens his students with an important note that one should always question about what the paragraph is all about- "if you can answer that then you know to read paragraphs."

The second paragraph distinguishes the distinction between a writer and a critic i.e. what a sign (work) is to writer becomes meaning (object of critical discourse) for a critic. The third and fourth paragraph purely defines of structuralism as a method and how it can be compressed into literary criticism, the entire history of literary criticism and how it has handled code and message so far. The fifth paragraph demonstrates how meaning is understood through structuralist study i.e. structural analysis connects the system of form and the system of meanings. In the sixth paragraph focus is on how structuralism is not just confined to smaller elements of language but also its meaning, to make it easier it prepares us to learn how structuralism can be used in literature. Thus, structuralism is a study of 'large units' like narrative, description and other major forms of literary expression i.e. it can be used for higher levels of discourses  as well and as a student of literature one must always try learning and researching such ideas.


·                    Original text of Gerard Genette's essay "Structuralism and Literary Criticism"

·                    Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 09 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Anagha Asok)

Gerard Genette’s Structuralism and Literary Criticism

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Claude Levi-Strauss’ “The Structural Study of Myth” (cont.)

Claude Levi-Strauss attempts to demonstrate certain misinterpretations of mythical thought, such as Carl Gustav Jung's proposition that a given mythological archetype possesses certain meaning in itself.  He argues this to be an error comparable to early linguists' notion that a sound may possess affinity with a meaning—an idea which was discredited by the more scientific Saussurean principle of the arbitrary character of linguistic signs.  Nevertheless, though Jung's approach does not hold water from a structuralist standpoint, it is, in its own right, both interesting and useful.  (This is one manner in which theories in the social sciences differ from scientific theories—the latter, once disproved, are no longer considered valid.)


Staying with Saussurean principles, Levi-Strauss goes on to demonstrate how, while the particulars of a myth describing events having taken place long ago may continue to shift and evolve (like content words in language), certain underlying patterns remain timeless (like structure words).  At this point, it would be useful to refer to the tabular analysis in the post dated 7 December 2013.  In a similar fashion, if the fairy tales of Cinderella and Snow White were to be broken down "horizontally", one would discover the emergence of "vertical" relations between the two.  Likewise, a structural analysis of the Oedipus myth would necessitate consideration of all its constituent variants/versions over time.


In this context, it is pertinent to understand that the myths of many cultures essentially attempt to address, albeit in a far-fetched manner, complex questions concerning the basic origin of human life.  The word "human" comes from the Latin word humanus, thought to be a hybrid relative of homo, meaning "man", and humus, meaning "earth", suggesting the notion that man is firmly rooted to the earth.  An analogy is sometimes drawn with vegetables, which spring from the earth, decay, and then return to where they come from.  This is reflected in the Judeo-Christian creation story, in which God creates the first man Adam out of clay.  However, as per Greek mythology, humans did not emerge from the earth, unlike monsters and dragons.  Even in Hindu mythology, suras or deities are seen as benevolent supernatural beings and asuras or demons/power-seeking deities are viewed as naturalists.


Levi-Strauss believes that the Oedipus myth has to do with the inability of a culture which holds the belief that mankind is autochthonous to find a satisfactory transition to the knowledge that human beings are actually born from the union of man and woman.  The myth, he says, attempts to relate the original problem (was man born from one or born from two?) to the derivative problem (born from different or born from same?).  While Column III of the aforementioned tabular analysis provides instances of monsters overcome by men, thereby denying the origin of humans from the earth, Column IV indicates humans springing from earth with difficulty in walking straight and standing upright, thereby affirming the individual origin in the earth.  (The naming of characters based on their physical attributes or personality traits, as seen in Column IV, is not specific to Greek literature; it can also be seen, for instance, in Hindu mythology and Panchatantra tales.)


Let us also briefly examine the story of Adam and Eve from this perspective.  If Eve was created out of Adam's rib, should she be looked at as either his sister or daughter, thus meaning that their offspring come from an incestuous relationship?  Even Sigmund Freud's concept of the Oedipus complex, where a child is trying to overvalue one parent against the other, is regarded as the latest version of the same myth grappling with the original problem.  Hence, every version belongs to the myth—there is no single true version of which all the others are but copies or distortions.  It can therefore be said that even Levi-Strauss' essay/analysis is a version of the myth trying to make sense of the problem of origin.


Eventually, it is noted that a myth is an aspect of human expression which is less concerned with delivering the message than dramatising the intractable questions about the meaning of human life.  It is similar to theatrical performances, where conflict is dramatised and the eventual message or tying-up of loose ends, though necessary, generally appears tedious and does not hold the audiences' attention.  The last scene in Shakespeare's Othello and the spectacular depiction of Shiva's devotees vis-a-vis Vishnu's concluding message in Yakshagana performances are cases in point.


Levi-Strauss concludes by stating that the function of repetition of the same sequence in a myth is to render its structure apparent.  So while its growth is a continuous process, its structure remains discontinuous.  Consequently, the kind of logic in mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern science.



·                    Original text of Claude Levi-Strauss' essay "The Structural Study of Myth"

·                    M.A.R. Habib's "A History of Literary Criticism—From Plato to the Present" (United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2005)

·                    Classroom discussions and slides used during the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 3 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Vishal R. Choradiya)

Monday, December 09, 2013

"Myth Today" - Roland Barthes

                                                                "Myth Today" – Roland Barthes

Barthe takes myth as a system of communication that is a message. This allows one to perceive myth as an object, concept, idea or a mode of signification. Since Myth is seen as a type of speech, everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse. Myth is not defined by the object of its message but by the utterance.
Barthe said that the motivation for his book "mythologies" was resentment at the bourgeois confusion of nature and history as in the attempts of the bourgeois to pass of their values and agendas which were historically produced. His most fundamental suggestion is that myth is not an object but a concept or an idea, but language is a type of speech. It is a mode of signification and is defined by the utterance in which it utters a message. He contains the view that there are no eternal myths; it is human history that converts "reality into speech".
Ancient or not, mythology can only have historical foundation for myth is a type of speech chosen by history. Mythical speech says Barthe is composed of a material that has already been worked on to make it suitable for communication.
In explaining the nature of myth Barthe reiterates Saussure's view that semiology is composed of three terms. The signifier which is acoustic image, the signified which is concept and a sign which is a word and which consists of signifier and signified.
In other words sign is a relation. The structure of myth repeats the tri-dimensional pattern: myth is a second order semiological system.

Hence in myth there are two semiological systems, one being staggered: the object of first being language and the object of second being myth as a metalanguage. In other words myth becomes a language in which one speaks about the first language.
Barthe reminds us that the entire sign of the first system, the signifier is equivalent to the meaning. But as the first term of the second system the signifier is a form. Barthe calls the final term of the mythical system "signification" so as to distinguish it from sign which is final term of the linguistic system.


Extract of Myth Today from the Norton Anthology

A, Vijayganesh. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 6 December. 2013. 

 (Notes of the lecture delivered on 6 December 2013. Prepared by Zakaria Vargis John)



Saturday, December 07, 2013

Claude Levi Strauss's "The Structural Study of Myth"

"It would seem that mythological worlds have been built up only  to be shattered again and that new worlds were built from the fragments." -Franz Boas

C. L. Strauss in his essay - "The structural study of the myth" (1958)  tries to give insight into the Sophocles play and explain the concept of myth. One must remember that the myth he speaks about is not the connotation of myth that we understand commonly. Myth, according to Strauss, is the form of a communication using language as its tool. He continues to say that some claim human societies merely express through their mythology the fundamental feelings common to the whole of mankind such as love, hate or revenge or that they try to provide some sort of explications for phenomena which they cannot otherwise comprehend - astronomical, meteorological, and the like. The basic problem of the contradiction of the myth is seen in the essay. The explanation for this situation lies to some extent in the fact that the study of the religion was started by men like Taylor, Frazer, Durkheim who were psychologically oriented. The difference between langue and parole which has been discussed already also notices a third referent. The myth like rest of the language is made up of constituent units.
These constituent units presuppose the present constituent units in language when analysed on levels namely phonemes, morphemes and sememes, hence they are called as gross constituent units. Each gross constituent consists of relation. It is well known to structural linguistics that constituent units on all levels are made up of relations and the true difference between our gross units and others remain unexplained. Strauss uses the Oedipus myth to explain the late forms and literary transmutations concerned with the aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

Cadmus seeks his sister Europa ravished by Zeus.

Cadmus kills the dragon.

Spartoi kill one another.

Labdacos (Laius' father) =Lame

Oedipus kills his father, Laius.

Laius (Oedipus' father)=Left-sided

Oedipus kills the Sphinx.

Oedipus = Swollen foot
Oedipus marries his mother, Jocasta.

Eteocles kills his brother, Polynices.

Antigone burries her brother, Polynices, despite prohibition.

The first column has as its common features the overrating of blood relations. The second column expresses the same thing but inverted which is the underrating of the blood relations. The third column refers to the monsters being slain. The remarkable connotation of the surnames in Oedipus's father's line has also been noticed. All the hypothetical meanings refer to the difficulties in walking straight and standing upright. The dragon is a chthonian being which has to be killed in order that mankind be born from the earth. Since the monsters are overcome by men. The common feature of the third column becomes the denial of the autochthonious origin of man. In order to interpret a myth, some basic elements are missing such as Jocasta killing herself and Oedipus piercing his own eyes. These events do not alter the substance of the myth although are very significant.
In a myth anything can happen with any character and to any subject. Strauss believes the basic elements are not isolated relations but bundles of each relation. To understand the myth of Oedipus, one needs to go back to the origin of Greek civilization. Structures are timeless not content so argued by the structuralists. The myth has to do with the inability for the culture which holds the belief in mankind is autochthonous, to find a satisfactory transition between this theory and the knowledge that the human beings are actually born from the union of a man and a woman.


Extract of Course in General Linguistics from the Norton Anthology.

Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 02 Dec 2013. 

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 2 December. Prepared by Steve R. Mathew)

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Linear Nature of the Signifier; Language as Organised Thought Coupled with Sound; Linguistic value from a conceptual view point (from the view of Signified)

The Linear Nature of the Signifier

The signifier has the following characteristics.

a.     -  It represents a span

b.      -The span is measurable in a single dimension (it is a line)

The arbitrary nature of sign (Principle II) has always been neglected by the linguists due to its over simplicity. However, this concept is a fundamental and its consequences are ineffable. It is equally important as the I principle (sign, signifier & signified). There are visual and auditory signifiers. Their elements are presented in a succession and they form a line. Thus we can talk about the linear nature of a signifier.

In contrast to the visual signifiers which are multidimensional the auditory signifiers are single-dimensional. The only auditory dimension is the dimension of time.

Language as Organised Thought Coupled with Sound

Language has two elements in it. They are ideas and sounds. Thought in itself is shapeless and indistinct. It is universally expected that without the help of the signs we cannot distinguish between two ideas. Thought is vague without language. There are no pre-existing ideas and nothing is distinct without the appearance of language.

When we are comparing between thought and ideas, we find that sound is neither more fixed nor more rigid than thought. Sound is not a mould into which an idea should fit. Language must be seen in its totality (of both thought/idea and sound).

Language can also be compared with a sheet of paper. Thought is the front side and sound is the back side. They are inseparable. One cannot cut the front without cutting the back. In language we can neither divide sound from thought nor thought from sound. When thought is separated from sound, the by-products are pure psychology or pure phonology.

Linguistic value from a conceptual view point (from the view of Signified)

The value of a word is not a simple concept. When we think about the value of a word, its capacity of standing for an idea comes to our mind. This is not complete. What about the synonyms? There can be two words standing for the same idea.


Value of a linguistic term or a word does not mean the idea conveyed by the word. It is different from the signification of the linguistic term. Value is one element of signification, and signification of a linguistic term depends on value.

Signification - it is understood as the counterpart of the sound image. Also, one sign is a counterpart of other signs. Then, it is not possible for value to be the signification of the sound-image alone (because all these elements are counterparts).

Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term is established from the simultaneous presence of the others (diagram). The value of each sign can be determined by either comparing it with similar terms, or by contrasting it with dissimilar terms.


All kinds of values (even for things outside of language) are governed by the same principle. They are made up of a dissimilar thing that can be exchanged for the thing of which you are trying to find the value of (exchange value, like how you can exchange a cup of coffee for 10 rupees) and a similar thing that can be compared to the thing you are trying to find the value of (like how you can compare 10 rupee with five rupee, or some other form of currency).


 Similarly, a word can be exchanged with something dissimilar (something which is not a word), like an idea AND a word can be compared with something similar (another word) - The value of a word is not fixed if only one of these criteria are met.


Hence, as a part of a system, words have both signification (relationship between concept and sound image) and value (that can be exchanged and compared).


Within a same language, words that express related ideas limit each other reciprocally. This means that when words that convey related ideas or meanings are used, we understand the differences between these words because these words draw limitation for each other. Example, the words happiness, joy and bliss - all represent a related idea. These words also help us understand that happiness is different joy and bliss, and so are the other two different from each other. We understand this difference because we understand the RECIPROCAL limitation put by each word on the others. Value of a word depends on the value of other words.


All these rules apply not only to words, but to larger elements in a particular language too, like grammatical entities.


Preexisting ideas are not found in all systems of languages, but values are. Concepts are defined by their differential relations with other concepts in the system - Understanding one concept by contrasting it with other concepts. The most precise characteristics of concepts are "being what others are not".


He concludes by saying that initially, there is no relation between a signifier and a signified, but this relationship is established only after the value of the concept (signified) is determined by comparing it with other similar values. Without comparing of these similar values, Signification (the relationship between signifier and signified) cannot exist.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Values and Relations in Language

This document highlights certain notions that Saussure elaborates upon in Course in General Linguistics. The document is constructed based on the reading of the text and classroom interactions of first year M.A. English students at Christ University, Bangalore.


Chapter IV: Sections 3: Linguistic Value from a Material Viewpoint.


The Word: The word is not the sound alone but the phonic differences that make it possible to distinguish this word from all others.


The focus of this definition lies in difference and it suggests that signification is primarily the non-coincidence of different segments of language.  The differential aspect of signification is thus correlative to the arbitrariness of signification.


The conclusion that Saussure arrives here is that Signs function based on their relative position in the language system and not due to any intrinsic value.


Incorporeal Language: The material element of language is only secondary. The example that Saussure provides to justify this statement is that of the value of a coin. He says that a coin has value not because of the material used to make the coin but according to the amount stamped upon it and according to its use inside or outside a political boundary.


Thus, the linguistic signifier is constituted not by its material substance but by the difference that separates its sound-image from all others.


The Written Sign:

·            The sign used in language is arbitrary. That is to say that the written sign 't' has no relation to the sound /t/, this relation is purely arbitrary.

·            The value of the letters is purely negative and differential, the only requirement is that the written sign for 't' should not be confused in script for the signs for 'l' or 'd' etc.


Chapter IV: Sections 4: The Sign Considered in its Totality.


Until this section Saussure seems to be making the claim that in language are only differences. In this section he presents the view that when the sign is considered in its totality there is no difference, only distinction or opposition.


I.e. although both the signifier and the signified are purely differential terms when considered separately, their combination is a positive fact.





 Signifier                        =    Differential + Negative

 Signified                       =    Differential + Negative

 Signifier + Signified   =    Oppositional   +  Positive



Chapter V: Sections 1: Syntagmatic and Associative Relations.


In a language state everything is based on Relations. These are of two classes that correspond to two forms of our mental activity. The two classes are Syntagmatic and Associative.


Inside Discourse, Words acquire relations based on the linear nature of language because they are chained together, ruling out the possibility of pronouncing two elements simultaneously.


Combinations supported by linearity are Syntagms.  In Syntagm a term acquires its value based on its position in the chain.

The Syntagmatic relation is in presentia  (present)


Outside Discourse, Words acquire relations of a different kind, one that it based on the association of common facts in memory. This results in groups marked by diverse relations

The Associative relation is in absentia (in a potential mnemonic series).


Extract of Course in General Linguistics from the Norton Anthology.

A, Vijayganesh. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 26 Nov. 2013. 

Habib, M. A. R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present.Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Web.

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 26 November 2013. Prepared by Shyam Nair)


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Place of language in the Facts of Speech



Ferdinand de Saussure is effectively the founder of modern linguistics and of structuralism. The predominant modes of analyzing language prior to Saussure were historical and philological. He undertook a synchronic approach that saw language as a structure that could be studied at a given point of time in its totality and entirety. He differentiates language from speech facts by listing out the characteristics of language.


Saussure makes a distinction between language and speech facts and not between language and speech. The basic difference is that speech facts are finite and speech is infinite. Speech has infinite possibilities. Speech facts are those that are already available and spoken.


Saussure lists out the following characteristics of language.


Language is a well-defined object in the heterogeneous mass of speech facts.


Saussure mentions that language can be localized in the limited site of the speaking circuit. He states that language is based on an association between an auditory image and a concept. The auditory image is associated with a concept. Language is the social side of speech, which cannot be modified or created by an individual. It requires a collective social approval. In order to understand the functioning of language an individual must serve as an apprentice. It is a gradual process just like how a child assimilates language in a moderate manner.


Language, unlike speaking, is something that we can study separately.


Any scientific study would entail one to separate certain things. In the case of economy, which is governed mainly by the respective power structure, the power structure is never taken into consideration when the economy is studied.

Likewise in the case of dead languages that are no longer spoken the respective linguistic components of that language can be assimilated. Saussure mentions that other elements of speech must be dispensed with for the scientific study of language.

Whereas speech is heterogeneous, language, as defined is homogenous.


Saussure assesses the union of meaning and sound images. He states that both the concept and sound images are psychological. Language is homogenous to the extent when it is objectified or externalized. When the objects are objectified they become homogenous.


Language is concrete.


Even though linguistic signs are basically psychological they are not abstractions. They are the creations of the human brain and of our collective consciousness. Language consists of associations, which requires collective approval.

Linguistic signs are tangible. Here Saussure establishes a clear distinction between language and speech facts. It is possible to reduce the linguistic signs to conventional written symbols whereas it would be impossible to provide detailed photographs about the act of speaking. The pronunciation of even the smallest word consists of an infinite number of muscular movements that could be identified and presented visually with great difficulty. Each of the sound images can be broken down into phonemes and these can be presented in the written form. In this way language becomes the storehouse of sound images and writing becomes the tangible form of those sound images.


Saussure builds his theory on language. He indicates that one reaches language through speech and writing.




Extract of Course in General Linguistics from the Norton Anthology.


Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 19 Nov. 2013. 


Habib, M. A. R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Web.


(Notes of the lecture delivered on 19 November 2013. Prepared by Akhil Scaria)