Language and Linguistics

What is Linguistic Sign definition concept and fundamental idea

Linguistic Sign

Any word that has meaning can be considered a linguistic sign:

  • computer;
  • child;
  • book;
  • blue;
  • happiness;

In linguistic signs, the union of the signifier and the meaning of the word occurs, forming an inseparable whole. This notion of sign was created by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of linguistics.

What is the meaning?

The meaning is the concept, idea or conception that each person has of a certain word.

What is the signifier?

The signifier is an acoustic image, a psychic representation of the sound of a word, that is, the mental recognition of that sound, without the need to materialize that sound through speech.

Characteristics of linguistic signs

Linguistic signs have two main characteristics:

Arbitrariness of the sign

The union of the signified and the signifier is arbitrary, and there is no natural reason for this association. It is unmotivated. The representation of the concept could therefore be done with any signifier.

Linearity of the signifier

Linguistic signs are considered in only one dimension. The letters and semantic unit of a text. In other words follow each other in line, one after the other.

In addition to these two main characteristics, linguistic signs are, at the same time, immutable and mutable:


Speakers do not choose the signifiers, being taught by the other speakers of the language who already established the relationship between meaning and signifiers earlier. It is, therefore, an imposed association, like a cultural heritage, arising from the linguistic habits of each language.


All languages ​​are subject to change over time. This process takes place in the long term, being influenced by the social and collective use of the language. A singular individual cannot provoke changes in linguistic signs. These changes are important to preserve the continuity of the language.

The language is the discipline that studies the college language of humans and the system of signs they use to communicate. The founder of linguistics was the Swiss Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913), who conceived of language in its different dimensions: as a reality that is part of the whole society, as a mental abstraction that allows us to identify what is around us and what happens to us and, finally, as a series of codes and conventions, such as grammar rules. In this article we will let you know that what is linguistic sign.

Consequently, linguistics studies language as an instrument of communication and a system of signs.

The fundamental idea of ​​the linguistic sign

The idea of ​​a linguistic sign involves two closely intertwined mental dimensions: it is a concept and, in parallel, a sound associated with it. Thus, the concept is the summary of the linguistic sign, while sound is a mental imprint that remains in our brain. Between concept and sound there is a reciprocal relationship.

In other words, the concept or meaning and the sound or signifier interact in a speaker’s mind. Let’s imagine a cloud, the signifier refers to the succession of sounds to refer to the cloud (we have in memory how this word is pronounced and we have heard it on some occasion), at the same time, the meaning of the cloud refers to the set of general characteristics that constitute a cloud (its color, shape and size).

The role of linguistic signs when we speak

When we speak, three different phenomena occur. The first is the psychic process in which concepts build an image or an acoustic fingerprint (in this process, the brain transmits an impulse correlative to the acoustic image to the phonation organs). Then there is a physical process, by which sound waves propagate from the mouth to the ear , so when an acoustic image is heard , the brain identifies the sound and associates it with the concept. In this last process, the mental concept takes the opposite path, that is, from the mind to the emission of a word.

According to Saussure, the linguistic sign is the association of an idea or a concept with a sound or written form. Thus, any person who speaks Portuguese associates the word pencil to certain image. In this way, when we say the word pencil, we think of a series of ideas linked together (a piece of elongated wood with a piece of graphite inside it that is used for writing).

The mental process by which we associate a meaning to a signifier has a number of characteristics:

1) there is a linearity, since the words are not pronounced simultaneously;

2) there is an articulation of sounds (monemes, morphemes and lexemes);

3) there is an arbitrariness (the relationship between signifier and meaning changes in each language, so that the signifier is different in each language, but its meaning remains the same).

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