In his essay “The Object of Study” Ferdinand de Saussure seeks to define “language” and all of its components as well as argue that language and linguistics in general should be viewed in multiple contexts.
Saussure’s essay “The Object of Study” begins by attempting to define language and its basic components. Saussure breaks down the complex notion of “language” into its basic components both physical and psychological. In doing so Saussure attempts to explain the basic parts that compromise language, the basic traveling of thought from brain to mouth, in an attempt to better understand the inner-workings of language as a whole. In addition, Saussure elaborates on the ways in which language is not only structured, but how it is used in societal and social settings. In his final paragraph, Saussure argues that language is “a system of signs, expressing ideas” and therefore one can conceive of a science, which Saussure calls “semiology,” that “studies the role of signs as part of social life” (8). Saussure concludes his argument by stating that in order to discover the true nature of language systems, one must consider what they have in common with other similar systems.
I found Saussure’s meticulous definition of “language” (complete with pictures and diagrams) to be rather refreshing. In defining the basic components of speech and language Saussure further illustrated his point, and made his arguments later in the essay much more compelling and relatable. In addition, I found Saussure’s distinction between language and speech to be particularly interesting, especially within the context of foreign languages. As Saussure states, “All definitions based on words are vain,” since certain terms have no exact equivalents in other languages (7). Saussure cites examples of German words that have no exact translation into English and I have found similar difficulties in my own studies of French. This further illustrates Saussures assertion that “language is never complete in any single individual, but exists perfectly in the collectivity” (6-7). In other words, each individual possesses different words and language and speech skills, and no one in particular can possess all the complexities and intricacies of a language, and it is only together, collectively that the true nature of language can be realized.