Saussure’s theory of the signifier and the signified
In the first place, and before going on to make a definition of the signifier and the signified according to Saussure, we want to establish a series of brushstrokes on his life. This author focused on the study of Linguistics as Science and published posthumously what would be the most important work on this subject in the world General Linguistics Course in 1916. Within it, his study methods and hypotheses stand out. based on dichotomies, among which those of speech and language stand out among others. Saussure Signified and Significant With Examples
He also dedicated a large part of his life to the study of the linguistic sign and this is an essential part of his work already mentioned. Although he was not the only one to carry out an analysis of it, the truth is that his teachings are still in force today and are the most used.
Therefore, and in order to understand what the signifier and the signified according to Saussure, we must indicate what his vision of the sign was and how he defined it. Thus, we can point out that for this author, linguistic signs are words and that all of them have two components, one material and the other purely mental. Both would be the ones that would shape the sign.
In order to be able to distinguish and define them correctly, Saussure called these parts of the linguistic sign as signifier and signified. These are inevitably linked by an arbitrary link, that is, it has been artificially created by man and has nothing to do with the reality that is being shown. In other words, any word, seen visually or read, has little to do with the real image to which they refer. Therefore, the link between the two does not follow any logical parameter.
What are the signifier and the meaning
Therefore, now that we already know that linguistic signs are composed of two parts arbitrarily joined together, we can focus on defining what each of them is, following the theories collected by Saussure in his General Course on Grammar.
- The signifier is the acoustic image of the concept or idea that you want to express, but it is not the sound. In other words, the signifier is the acoustic representation that our brain makes of the chain of sounds that we hear when a word is pronounced. In the event that it appears written, an image of this type is also produced, since when we read it the sound of the word is generated in our head without the need to produce any type of acoustic alteration.
- For its part, the meaning is the psychic representation that our brain makes of that acoustic image produced by the signifier. For Saussure, meaning is the idea that we form in our head after having heard or read the word. This does not have to correspond one hundred percent to the real object, but to the idea that the person who perceives it has of it. Saussure Signified and Significant With Examples
Examples of signifier and signified
The concepts of signifier and signified according to Saussure can be somewhat complex, but we are going to propose a series of examples so that you can identify and distinguish them clearly.
Let’s focus on the word home. This is formed by a chain of different sounds that make up the linguistic sign: / k / a / s / a. These, in turn, have their own meaning and signifier.
The signifier would be the word house itself, that is, the acoustic image that is created in our head when we see it written or listen to it. This has little to do with reality since physically it does not resemble a real house at all.
For its part, the meaning of the word house would be the mental idea that the brain forms in each one of us of what a house is. For each person, it will have a series of nuances and meanings and each one can imagine it in a different way: it can be a block of flats, a house with a chimney, brick, wood… etc.
If you want to continue learning more about different theories such as Saussure’s on signifier and meaning and some examples, visit our Grammar and Linguistics section where you will find more articles like this one. We hope that it has helped you to expand your knowledge and to better understand the difference between meaning and significance according to the father of Linguistics as we know it today. Saussure Signified and Significant With Examples