Language and Linguistics

Silence as a linguistic sign Ferdinand de Saussure

Silence as a linguistic sign

Silence as a linguistic sign is a variable that has to be studied according to the semiotic conditions in which language itself is inserted. In this way, human language, in most of its manifestations, is materialized in sign elements through Semanticity. Silence as linguistic sign tic sign

Classification of signs

The philosopher Charles S. Peirce established a classification of signs in attention to the relationship established between the perceivable entity and its meaning. Is the next:


There is a natural relationship between the perceivable entity and the meaning we add to it. This relationship is produced by physical, mechanical, or cause-effect contiguity. That is, if we observe smoke, the meaning that we will attribute to it is that of some agent in combustion or reaction, so the smoke is an indication of combustion.


There is a similarity between the perceptible reality and the reality that it tries to imitate or refer to the previous one. Drawings, plans, or maps, among many others, fall into the category of the icon.


The relationship established between the sign elements and the content they represent is conventional and arbitrary, that is, it is not based on similarity and contiguity.

In this way, the linguistic sign is included within the category of symbols since there is no external or internal relationship that associates the sounds of a word “house” with the reality to which it refers, that is, with the meaning of “home”. The languages are therefore symbolic systems formed by linguistic signs.

Characterization of the linguistic sign

The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (2008) was the one who carried out the most celebrated characterization of the linguistic sign. This sign is made up of two inseparable elements:


It is the acoustic image, the sound representation that we associate with a word. That is, the representation of the shape of the sign.


It is the mental or conceptual representation that is associated with the signifier. That is, it is the idea or concept that we associate with a word when we hear it.

Where, then, can we include silence within the sign system? As Grijelmo (2012: 74) tells us: «in a system of signs, silence constitutes a plus sign. Therefore, it takes on the role of the signifier ». We are going to explain this statement, silence is one more signifier within a system of signs insofar as it implies the absence of the rest of signifiers, that is, the absence of signs becomes a plus sign, thus, if in a central nuclear establish an alarm system through sound emissions of different gradation depending on the severity of the alert, each of these emissions forms a sign since they all indicate a different degree of risk, but, in turn, the non-emission of no alarm also becomes a sign indicating that there is no risk. Silence as a linguistic sign

This example that we have just given also helps us to determine that silence acquires a meaning, in the previous case that there is no risk. In effect, silence means, so it is both significant and signified. If we look for the definitions of the dictionary of the RAE on silence, the meanings offered by it do not attend to its quality of the sign. Consequently, it will be through the figure of the meaning that is obtained in the use that is made of it, where we will obtain the meaningful interpretation of silence, that is, only through its use can we obtain a meaning.

Languages ​​in their own configuration have created grammatical figures in which the expression of silence has a place. For its location we will focus our gaze on grammar and rhetoric; On the other hand, to address the meaning that silence obtains in its use, one has to resort to pragmatics, which is the linguistic current that studies this phenomenon. Silence as a linguistic sign

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