Monday, August 1, 2011

Langue or Parole? - Part 1

I will now explain the name of my blog. I have had a blog since March of this year (2011) and there truly is a reason (multiple reasons actually) behind the name.

The French words langue and parole have been used as linguistic terms for a bit more than a century. Ferdinand de Saussure, whose book (class notes compiled by his students) Cours de linguistique générale (Course in General Linguistics) introduced structural linguistics and ushered linguistics into the 20th century, used the terms to denote the universal characteristics of language (langue) and the individual expression or use of language (parole). You could think of them as the impersonal and the personal, the macroscopic and microscopic. To quote Saussure himself from Cours de linguistique générale:
L'étude du langage comporte . . . deux parties : l'une, essentielle, a pour objet la langue, qui est sociale dans son essence et indépendante de l'individu ; cette étude est uniquement psychique ; l'autre, secondaire, a pour objet la partie individuelle du langage, c'est-à-dire la parole y compris la phonation : elle est psycho-psychique. (37)
Translation: The study of language has two parts: first, and essential to this study, is langue, that aspect of language which is social in its essence and independent of the individual; this study is only mental; secondarily, there is the individual aspect of language, parole, which includes phonation: this aspect is psycho-mental.

It must be noted Saussurean linguistics no longer exists in its original form. The terms langue and parole are viewed as insufficient and imprecise.

Nonetheless, I choose to use them because they are immediately recognizable terms and remain quite useful as a starting point for linguistic discussion. After all, where would we be linguistically without Saussure? (Or, though I hate to say it, without Chomsky or Derrida?)

Thus, the title of this blog, Langue or Parole?, has several implications:

1. It implies that this is not a monolingual blog: the title includes French and English, the primary languages here.
2. It implies that this is a blog generally focused on language and linguistics: the title is not PC or Apple?.
3. It implies a minor linguistics quiz: you have to decide whether blogging falls in the linguistic category of langue or that of parole (and that same question could be applied to each specific blog post).
4. It implies continuing discussion and refinement of ideas: the question mark indicates that I am not always sure about my linguistic observations and therefore invite contributions and corrections.

Image Credit: www.flickr.com (NOTE: I could find no copyright or other information about the cool graphic. If it is copyrighted, however, please let me know and I will immediately remove it.)

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