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Chapter V. Value of terms and meanings of words. How the two coincide and differ.

Where there are terms, there are also values. The idea of value is tacitly implied in that of term. Always hard to keep these two ideas apart.

When you speak of value, you feel it here becomes synonymous with sense (meaning) and that points to another area of confusion (here the confusion will reside more in the things themselves).

The value is indeed an element of the sense, but what matters is to avoid taking the sense as anything other than a value.

It is perhaps one of the most subtle points there is in linguistics, to see how sense depends on but nevertheless remains distinct from value. On this the linguist's view and the simplistic view that sees the language as a nomenclature differ strikingly.

First let us take meaning as I have represented it and have myself set it out:

The arrow indicates meaning as counterpart of the auditory image

In this view, the meaning is the counterpart of the auditory image and nothing else. The word appears, or is taken as, an isolated, self-contained whole; internally, it contains the auditory image having a concept as its counterpart.

The paradox - in Baconian terms the trap in the 'cave' - is this: the meaning, which appears to us to be the counterpart of the auditory image, is just as much the counterpart of terms coexisting in the language. We have just seen that the language represents a system in which all the terms appear as linked by relations.

At first sight, no relation between the a) and the b) arrows. The value of a word will be the result only of the coexistence of the different terms. The value is the counterpart of the coexisting terms. How does that come to be confused with the counterpart of the auditory image?

Another diagram: series of slots:

the relation inside one slot and between slots is very hard to distinguish.

The meaning as counterpart of the image and the meaning as counterpart of coexisting terms merge.

Before example, note that: Outside linguistics, value always seems to involve the same paradoxical truth. Tricky area. Very difficult in any domain to say what value consists of. So let us be very wary. There are two elements comprising value. Value is determined 1) by a dissimilar thing that can be exchanged, and that can be marked | [an up-arrow] and 2) by similar things that can be compared <- -> [left-right arrows].

These two elements are essential for value. For example, a 20-franc coin. Its value is a matter of a dissimilar thing that I can exchange (e.g. pounds of bread), 2) the comparison between the 20-franc coin and one-franc and two-franc coins, etc., or coins of similar value (guinea).

The value is at the same time the counterpart of the one and the counterpart of the other.

You can never find the meaning of a word by considering only the exchangeable item, but you have to compare the similar series of comparable words. You cannot take words in isolation. This is how the system to which the term belongs is one of the sources of value. It is the sum of comparable terms set against the idea exchanged.

The value of a word can never be determined except by the contribution of coexisting terms which delimit it: or, to insist on the paradox already mentioned: what is in the word is only ever determined by the contribution of what exists around it. (What is in the word is the value.) Around it syntagmatically or around it associatively.

You must approach the word from outside by starting from the system and coexisting terms.

A few examples.

The plural and whatever terms mark the plural.

The value of a German or Latin plural is not the value of a Sanskrit plural. But the meaning, if you like, is the same.

In Sanskrit, there is the dual.

Anyone who assigns the same value to the Sanskrit plural as to the Latin plural is mistaken because I cannot use the Sanskrit plural in all the cases where I use the Latin plural.

Why is that? The value depends on something outside.

If you take on the other hand a simple lexical fact, any word such as, I suppose, mouton - mutton, it doesn't have the same value as sheep in English. For if you speak of the animal on the hoof and not on the table, you say sheep.

It is the presence in the language of a second term that limits the value attributable to sheep.

mutton / sheep / mouton (Restrictive example.)

So the | arrow is not enough. The <- -> arrows must always be taken into account.

Something similar in the example of decrepit.

How does it come about that an old man who is decrepit and a wall that is decrepit have a similar sense?

It is the influence of the neighbouring word. What happens to decrepit (an old man) comes from the coexistence of the neighbouring term decrepit (a wall).

Example of contagion.


[4 July 1911]

It is not possible even to determine what the value of the word sun is in itself without considering all the neighbouring words which will restrict its sense. There are languages in which I can say:Sit in the sun. In others, not the same meaning for the word sun (= star). The sense of a term depends on presence or absence of a neighbouring term.

The system leads to the term and the term to the value. Then you will see that the meaning is determined by what surrounds it.

I shall also refer back to the preceding chapters, but in the proper way, via the system, and not starting from the word in isolation.

To get to the notion of value, I have chosen to start from the system of words as opposed to the word in isolation. I could have chosen a different basis to start from.

Psychologically, what are our ideas, apart from our language ? They probably do not exist. Or in a form that may be described as amorphous. We should probably be unable according to philosophers and linguists to distinguish two ideas clearly without the help of a language (internal language naturally).

Consequently, in itself, the purely conceptual mass of our ideas, the mass separated from the language, is like a kind of shapeless nebula, in which it is impossible to distinguish anything initially. The same goes, then, for the language: the different ideas represent nothing pre-existing. There are no: a) ideas already established and quite distinct from one another, b) signs for these ideas. But there is nothing at all distinct in thought before the linguistic sign. This is the main thing. On the other hand, it is also worth asking if, beside this entirely indistinct realm of ideas, the realm of sound offers in advance quite distinct ideas (taken in itself apart from the idea).

There are no distinct units of sound either, delimited in advance.

The linguistic fact is situated in between the two:

This linguistic fact will engender values which for the first time will be determinate, but which nevertheless will remain values, in the sense that can be attached to that word. There is even something to add to the fact itself, and I come back to it now. Not only are these two domains between which the linguistic fact is situated amorphous, but the choice of connection between the two, the marriage (of the two) which will create value is perfectly arbitrary.

Otherwise the values would be to some extent absolute. If it were not arbitrary, this idea of value would have to be restricted, there would be an absolute element.

But since this contract is entirely arbitrary, the values will be entirely relative.

If we go back now to the diagram representing the signified and signifying elements together

we see that it is doubtless justified but is only a secondary product of value. The signified element alone is nothing, it blurs into a shapeless mass. Likewise the signifying element.

But the signifying and signified elements contract a bond in virtue of the determinate values that are engendered by the combination of such and such acoustic signs with such and such cuts that can be made in the mass. What would have to be the case in order to have this relation between signified and signifying elements given in itself ? It would above all be necessary that the idea should be determinate in advance, and it is not. It would above all be necessary that the signified element should be something determined in advance, and it is not.

That is why this relation is only another expression of values in contrast (in the system). That is true on any linguistic level.

A few examples. If ideas were predetermined in the human mind before being linguistic values, one thing that would necessarily happen is that terms would correspond exactly as between one language and another.

French German
cher ['dear'] lieb, teuer (also moral)
There is no exact correspondence.
juger, estimer ['judge, estimate'] urteilen, erachten have a set of meanings only partly coinciding with French juger, estimer .

We see that in advance of the language there is nothing which is the notion 'cher' in itself. So we see that this representation: although useful, is only a way of expressing the fact that there is in French a certain value cher delimited in French system by contrast with other terms.

It will be a certain combination of a certain quantity of concepts with a certain quantity of sounds.

So the schema is not the starting point in the language.

The value cher is determined on both sides. The contours of the idea itself is what we are given by the distribution of ideas in the words of a language. Once we have the contours, the schema can come into play.

This example was taken from vocabulary, but anything will do.

Another example. Idea of different tenses, which seems quite natural to us, is quite alien to certain languages. As in the Semitic system (Hebrew) there is no distinction, as between present, future and past; that is to say these ideas of tense are not predetermined, but exist only as values in one language or another.

Old German has no future, no proper form for the future. It expresses it by means of the present. But this is a manner, of speaking. Hence Old German present value is not the same as in French future.

Similarly if we take the difference between the perfective aspect of the verb and the imperfective aspect in the Slavic languages (difficulty in the study of these languages). In Slavic languages, constant distinction between aspects of the verb: action outside any question of time or in process of accomplishment. We find these distinctions difficult because the categories are unfamiliar. So not predetermined, but value.

This value will result from the opposition of terms in the language.

Hence what I have just said: The notion of value was deduced from the indeterminacy of concepts. The schema linking the signified to the signifying element is not a primary schema. Value cannot be determined by the linguist any more than in other domains: we take it with all its clarity and obscurity.

To sum up, the word does not exist without a signified as well as a signifying element. But the signified element is only a summary of the linguistic value, presupposing the mutual interaction of terms, in each language system.

Chapter VI

In a later chapter, if I have time: What I have said by focussing on the term value can be alternatively expressed by laying down the following principle: in the language (that is, a language state) there are only differences. Difference implies to our mind two positive terms between which the difference is established. But the paradox is that: In the language, there are only differences, without positive terms. That is the paradoxical truth. At least, there are only differences if you are speaking either of meanings, or of signified or signifying elements.

When you come to the terms themselves, resulting from relations between signifying and signified elements you can speak of oppositions.

Strictly speaking there are no signs but differences between signs.

Example in Czech: zhena, 'woman'; genitive plural, zhen.

It is clear that in the language one sign is as good as another. Here there is none.

(zhena, zhen functions as well as zhena, gen. pl. zhenu which existed previously.)

[This example shows that only the difference between signs is operative.

zhenu works because it is different from zhena.

zhen works because it is different from zhena.

There are only differences; no positive term at all.

Here I am speaking of a difference in the signifying element.

The mechanism of signifying elements is based on differences.

Likewise for signified elements, there are only differences that will be governed by differences of an acoustic nature. The idea of a future will exist more or less, depending on whether the differences established by signs of the language (between the future and the rest) are more or less marked.

Aller ['to go'] functions because it is different from allant ['going'] and allons ['(we) go'].

aller | allons | allant

English going = aller, allant

Unsegmented, given no acoustic difference between two ideas, the ideas themselves will not be differentiated, at any rate as much as in French.

So the whole language system can be envisaged as sound differences combined with differences between ideas.

There are no positive ideas given, and there are no determinate acoustic signs that are independent of ideas. Thanks to the fact that the differences are mutually dependent, we shall get something looking like positive terms through the matching of a certain difference of ideas with a certain difference in signs. We shall then be able to speak of the opposition of terms and so not claim that there are only differences (because of this positive element in the combination).

In the end, the principle it comes down to is the fundamental principle of the arbitrariness of the sign.

It is only through the differences between signs that it will be possible to give them a function, a value.

If the sign were not arbitrary, one would not be able to say that in the language there are only differences.

The link with the chapter entitled Absolute arbitrariness, relative arbitrariness is this: I have considered the word as a term placed in a system, that is to say as a value. Now the interconnection of terms in the system can be conceived as a limitation on arbitrariness, whether through syntagmatic interconnection or associative interconnection.

So: In couperet syntagma between root and suffix, as opposed to hache.

(Interconnection, syntagmatic link between the two elements.)

Hache ['axe'] is absolutely arbitrary, couperet ['chopper'] is relatively motivated (syntagmatic association with coupe ['chop']),

couperet hache syntagmatic limitation absolutely arbitrary.
plu ['pleased'] plaire ['to please'] associative limitation

In this course only the external part is more or less complete.

In the internal part, evolutionary linguistics has been neglected in favour of synchronic linguistics and I have dealt only with a few general principles of linguistics.

These general principles provide the basis for a productive approach to the details of a static state or the law of static states.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 774

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