chapter  4
37 Pages

Language as History/History as Language: Saussure and the Romance of Etymology

Though the term "Saussurean revolution" is undoubtedly an over simplificiation, there is some appropriateness in using it to refer to the extensive changes in ways of conceptualizing language, including literary language, which underlie a great deal of current thinking on the subject. After Saussure, the question of the distinctiveness of literary language no longer looks like the same question, because the linguistic framework in which it is posed has changed; in particular, linguistics is now constituted as a methodologically rigorous science of systems, focusing its attention on abstractable formal structures rather than patterns discoverable in large bodies of historical and comparative material. After all, it is the paradigmatic relations that connect the present utterance with the past via associations stored in the memory, and the syntagmatic relations that coexist, as Saussure puts it, in praesentia.