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Wed Aug 29 2007

Review: General Linguistics: de Saussure (2006)

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Message 1: Review: General Linguistics: de Saussure (2006)
Date: 29-Aug-2007
From: Randall Eggert <>
Subject: Review: General Linguistics: de Saussure (2006)
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AUTHOR: de Saussure, Ferdinand TRANSLATORS: Sanders, Carol; Pires, Matthew TITLE: Writings in General Linguistics PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2006

Mareike Buss, Institute of Linguistics and Communication Studies (ISK), RWTH Aachen University, Germany

GENERAL DESCRIPTION Ferdinand de Saussure is widely considered to be the father of modern linguistics, at least of its structuralist branch. His influence on modern linguistics, however, is not based on his own writings but on the _Course in General Linguistics_ (CGL), a posthumous publication of Saussurean ideas based on students' notes. In fact, he never published any of his writings on general linguistic issues. His published oeuvre is limited to two major publications, the so-called 'mémoire' and his PhD thesis, and to a series of short articles concerning questions of 19th century comparative grammar (Saussure 1922). The _Writings in General Linguistics_ (WGL) is the first English publication of Ferdinand de Saussure's own writings in general linguistics. WGL is a translation of the French _Écrits de linguistique générale_ (ELG) (Saussure 2002) containing Saussurean texts edited and published in French since the 1950s as well as recently discovered autographs. These autographs are generally referred to as ''Orangery Manuscripts'' because they were found in the orangery of the Saussures' family house in Geneva in 1996.

In this review, I will not primarily focus on the theoretical content of Ferdinand de Saussure's writings and their divergences with regard to the CGL. These issues have been extensively discussed elsewhere (see e.g. Harris 2001, Sanders 2004). Instead, I will give some background information on the publication of ELG/WGL and comment on the edition as well as on the translation.

BACKGROUND ON THE BOOK As mentioned above, the CGL was not published by Ferdinand de Saussure himself. It was edited and published posthumously by two Genevan colleagues, Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. They considered Saussure's own writings too fragmentary and not elaborate enough for serving as a textual basis for the compilation of the CGL. Consequently, they mainly relied on the lecture notes Saussure's students had taken during the three courses on general linguistics at the University of Geneva from 1907-1911. The two editors, however, did not only compile and redact the students' notes. In fact, they structured and ordered the chapters of the CGL according to their own ideas, left out important Saussurean formulations and explanations, added their own comments and theoretical ideas - in short: they composed a text that diverged in many respects from the original Saussurean teachings. It was only at the end of the 1950s, after Robert Godel had ordered and classified the Saussurean estate at the public library of Geneva (Godel 1957), that the scientific community began to recognize the massive editorial interventions of Bally and Sechehaye.

From the end of the 1950s to the early 1980s, Saussurean studies mainly concentrated on elucidating the relation between the CGL and Saussure's own writings. Even though the question of the CGL's ''authenticity'' dominated the scholarly discussions back then, these did not have an exclusively philological focus. Many researchers were fascinated by the intellectual physiognomy that Saussure's own writings revealed and that differed in so many respects from the CGL. Saussure's writings showed a linguist ''in search of his object of study'', often hesitating and doubting with regard to his theoretical postulates and distinctions, but also adamant and harsh in the critique of certain linguistic positions of his time. All the central theoretical achievements of the CGL, e.g. the distinction of language system (langue) and language use (parole), synchrony and diachrony, or signifier and signified, are developed and discussed in these writings. However, these concepts are exposed and explained in a completely different way. Whereas they are conceptualized as plain theoretical dichotomies in the CGL, Saussure develops them in his own texts as dialectically structured dualities in which both terms are inextricably intertwined. Hence, these writings do not advocate a structural linguistics with an exclusive focus on the language system but they rather propose a usage-based model for the study of language. In fact, Saussure's epistemological and methodological claims often remind one of positions developed in hermeneutics and ethnomethodology (Jaeger in press).

CONTENT OF THE BOOK Being the first English translation of Saussure's writings on general linguistics, WGL not only presents an edition of the Orangery Manuscripts discovered in Geneva in 1996, but it comprises all texts of thematic relevance that have been published in French since the 1950s. WGL contains the ''Notes on general linguistics'' published by Rudolf Engler (Saussure 1968, 1974) (ca. 155 pages), the Orangery Manuscripts (ca. 70 pages), and two shorter texts that were edited by Jean Starobinski (1971) and Aldo Prosdocimi (1983) (2 pages). The notes are organized in four sections: (1) ''On the Dual Essence of Language'' (pp. 3-60) includes only documents of the Orangery Manuscripts; these documents were partially marked 'On the Dual Essence of Language', 'Dual Essence', etc. by Saussure and found together in a large envelope; (2) ''Miscellany and Aphorisms'' (pp. 63-82) includes the so-called ''Notes item'' and aphoristic notes (Engler edition and Orangery Manuscripts); (3) ''Further Reflections on General Linguistics'' (pp. 85-197) includes the ''Notes on general linguistics'' from the Engler edition, five new notes and the two texts edited by Starobinski and Prosdocimi; (4) ''Notes for the Course in General Linguistics'' (pp. 201-240) includes preparatory notes for some lessons of Saussure's three courses in general linguistics (Engler edition and Orangery Manuscripts).

The translators of WGL have labeled the two major corpora, the Engler edition and the Orangery Manuscripts, ''Early Notes'' and ''New Notes'', respectively. These labels are somehow misleading because they suggest considerable chronological and theoretical differences between the two corpora. All the manuscripts, however, were written during the same period from the early 1890s to 1912/13 and show clear theoretical parallels and convergences. It is only due to a mere historical contingency that some of the Saussurean manuscripts were given to the public library of Geneva, while others were forgotten in the orangery of the family house of the Saussures' until their rediscovery in 1996.

The volume opens with the French editors' preface (pp. xi-xvii) followed by an introduction by the English translator Carol Sanders (pp. xviii-xxx). While the preface situates the publication of WGL in the context of Saussurean studies, Sanders gives an overview of the discovery and publication of the new notes and outlines Saussure's linguistic ideas in contrast to the CGL. The book also contains a substantial bibliography of works about Saussure from 1970 to 2004 (pp. 241-325), of Saussure's own writings (pp. 325-326), of English translations of these writings (p. 327), and, finally, a comprehensive index nominum and rerum (pp. 329-336).

THE EDITION The French editors as well as the English translators claim that the newly found Orangery manuscripts constitute ''the substantial outline of a book on general linguistics'' (Bouquet/Engler 2006, xvi) or ''a draft for the book on the nature of language, or the 'philosophy' of language, to which Saussure had referred.'' (Sanders 2006, xix). These statements suggest, in other words, that we are dealing with a book on general linguistics, maybe not totally completed and revised, but still a book. Yet, this is not the case, neither for the ''New Notes'' of the Orangery Manuscripts nor for the ''Early Notes''. It is true that many of the Saussurean manuscripts contain metacommunicative comments referring to the reader, pointing to other chapters or paragraphs and even to parts of a book. However, these markers are nothing but clues to a project that Saussure apparently failed to accomplish during his lifetime and that we only find traces and fragments of. So WGL is not the publication of a 'book on general linguistics'. It is a collection of notes, of briefer and longer texts, even of scraps and snippets, all dealing with the same questions of linguistic theory and methodology. Every potential reader should keep this in mind in order to avoid being disappointed by this extraordinary collection of texts.

In contrast to the German and Italian translations of ELG (Saussure 2003, 2005), WGL faithfully reproduces the French edition. The French editors aimed primarily at enhancing the readability of the widely fragmentary manuscripts and decided to use only a minimum of critical apparatus. On the one hand, this decision may certainly be helpful for many readers as it somehow lowers the first barrier of approaching these texts. On the other hand, the polished surface of the texts may suggest that this is a 'normal text' - which is misleading.

Furthermore, WGL reproduces all editorial errors present in the French edition. To mention just some examples: many of Saussure's metacommunicative comments have been omitted, e.g. p. 6, p. 44, p. 48, p. 50, p. 55; on p. 53 the original order of the paragraphs and the logic of the argumentation in the manuscript have been changed; on p. 86 the manuscript is faultily transcribed, in that a whole phrase is omitted: ''starting from philology, that is the study of literature, of texts, and secondarily of languages, [but absolutely not of language (langue) > omitted], ...''; at the end of the first paragraph on p. 201 WGL reads ''frontispiece'' while the Saussurean manuscripts read ''frontière'' (= border). These errors could have been easily emended, if the translators had compared the text of ELG with the online diplomatic transcription of the original manuscripts by Rudolf Engler (Saussure 2004) or with the original manuscripts themselves.

Finally, two texts are erroneously classified as belonging to the Orangery Manuscripts, the ''Note on discourse'' and ''Unde exoriar'' (p. 197). Whereas the former was first published by J. Starobinski (1971, p.14), the latter was first edited by A. Prosdocimi (1983, pp. 69-71).

THE TRANSLATION As far as I can tell (being a non-native speaker), the English translation reads very smoothly while still preserving the tone of the French original. Sanders explains the most important terminological choices of the translation in her introduction (pp. xxvi-xxviii), e.g. the rendering of Saussure's 'langage', 'langue', and 'parole'. Further explanations regarding the translation of certain terms or expressions can be found in footnotes that have been added to the translated text. Still, the translation is not always accurate.

The most salient inaccuracy is the translation of the ''Notes Item'' as ''Miscellaneous Notes''. The ''Notes Item'' are a small set of notes exclusively dedicated to semiology and the semiological foundation of linguistics. They show a peculiar formal feature: All notes begin with the Latin word 'item' (= likewise, moreover). The translation of ''Notes Item'' as ''Miscellaneous Notes'' and of the initial ''Item'' as ''Misc.'' is a very unhappy choice because in the context of Saussurean studies these notes are normally referred to as ''Notes Item''. The title of these notes being less a title than a proper name, it would have been much better to preserve the internationally well-known ''Notes Item''.

Minor inaccuracies regarding the translation of Saussurean idiosyncrasies or neologisms such as ''intégration ou postméditation-réflexion'' which has been translated as ''integration or retrospective reflection'' (p. 60). Even though the English translation may well convey the sense of the Saussurean neologism, it is impossible for the English reader to relate this term to other passages or texts where Saussure discusses similar phenomena. More annoying is the loose translation of other phrases or passages, for instance the translation of ''trésor mental de la langue'' as ''inner mental store of langue'' (p. 64): Here, the well-known Saussurean metaphor of the langue as an ''inner treasure'' is unrecognizable in the English translation.

All in all, the translation is very readable and may well be used in undergraduate or graduate courses on semiotics or the history of linguistics. The scholarly reader, however, who wishes to do in-depth research, can only use WGL to get a preliminary idea of the Saussurean texts and then absolutely has to fall back on Engler's critical editions (Saussure 1968, 1974, 2004) or on the manuscripts themselves.

EVALUATION WGL IS the first book that renders accessible Ferdinand de Saussure's writings in general linguistics to a broader audience in the English speaking world. Therefore, it was a very good decision to translate all the writings and not only the Orangery Manuscripts. Thanks to the economical use of critical apparatus the edited texts are also readable for non-experts in the field. However, as I have pointed out in the previous section, the translation is not always reliable and accurate.

Very useful, especially for non-expert readers, is the supplementary information that the translators Carol Sanders and Matthew Pires have included in the volume: footnotes, an index, and a bibliography. The footnotes contain some textual commentary on the Saussurean writings. Topics range from comments on the translation of single terms or phrases, explanations regarding persons or theoretical terms and questions mentioned by Saussure, to references to parallel passages in the CGL. The index includes all crucial terms and names of persons (only surnames) that are mentioned in the texts. Very interestingly, the translators have also listed all analogies for language, linguistics, and the linguistic sign that Saussure used in his writings to illustrate his conception of language and linguistics.

The bibliography contains works on Saussure in all major languages of the world from 1970 to 2004. Its broad scope is at the same time its strength and its weakness. On the one hand, it is very useful to include such a comprehensive bibliography in a volume that will certainly become a point of reference for Saussurean studies in the English speaking world. On the other hand, it would have been desirable to make explicit the criteria underlying the selection of the included titles. Also, the bibliography shows various formal inconsistencies, e.g. some Japanese or Russian titles are only transliterated, some are transliterated and translated, and others, finally, only translated; in addition, it contains many typos.

On the whole, I consider the present volume a highly valuable publication not only in the context of Saussurean studies but for all linguists and graduate students interested in the history of linguistics, philosophy of language, and semiotics. In a historiographical perspective, WGL will surely permit a critical reevaluation of the Saussurean contribution to modern linguistics in the English speaking scientific community.

In a philosophical perspective, it could be stimulating to confront Saussure's usage-based approach to language and linguistics (see e.g. pp. 44-54), for example, with Ludwig Wittgenstein's linguistic reflections in his ''Philosophical Investigations''. Their disciplinary and theoretical differences notwithstanding, both discuss similar questions: How are cognition and language related to one another? What is the relation between cognition, language, and world? What is the relation between language and society? What is the role of the individual?

Saussure's methodological and epistemological reflections are another interesting strand of future research. In contrast to the positions known from the CGL, his methodological claims, e.g. with regard to linguistic categories, sometimes even remind one of ethnomethodological positions (see e.g. pp.122-135).

The Saussurean writings are fascinating documents of the history of linguistics. Although sometimes not completely satisfying because of their fragmentary status, they captivate the reader through their intellectual brilliance as well as through their continuous doubts: ''Should we reveal our true thoughts? It may be feared that a precise view of what 'langue' is will lead to doubts about the future of linguistics. It is a science in which the difficulty of obtaining a rationally defined object, and the importance of the object, are disproportionate'' (p. 59).

REFERENCES Godel, Robert. (1957) _Les sources manuscrites du Cours de linguistique générale de F. de Saussure_. Genève: Droz.

Jaeger, Ludwig. (In press) Philosophische Induktion: Über einige Analogien der Forschungsprogramme Ferdinand de Saussures und Wilhelm von Humboldts. In: Pierre Swiggers (ed.), _Ferdinand de Saussure: Linguistique générale et théorie du langage_. Leuven: Peeters.

Harris, Roy. (2001) _Saussure and his Interpreters_. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Prosdocimi, Aldo. (1983) Sul Saussure delle leggende germaniche. _Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure_ 37, 35-106.

Sanders, Carol, ed. (2004) _The Cambridge Companion to Saussure_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1922) _Recueil des publications scientifiques_. Publié par Charles Bally et Léopold Gautier. Genève.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1968) _Cours de linguistique générale. Édition critique par Rudolf Engler_. Tome 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1974) _Cours de linguistique générale. Édition critique par Rudolf Engler_. Tome 2: Appendice. Notes de Ferdinand de Saussure sur la linguistique générale. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2002) _Écrits de linguistique générale_. Texte établi et édité par Simon Bouquet et Rudolf Engler. Paris: Gallimard.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2003) _Wissenschaft der Sprache. Neue Texte aus dem Nachlass_. Herausgegeben von Ludwig Jäger. Übersetzt und textkritisch bearbeitet von Elisabeth Birk und Mareike Buss. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2004) _De l'essence double du langage_. Transcription diplomatique établie par Rudolf Engler d'après le manuscrit déposé à la Bibliothèque de Genève (1996), Texto! (available online:

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2005) _Scritti inediti di linguistica generale_. Introduzione, traduzione e commento di Tullio De Mauro. Bari: Laterza.

Starobinski, Jean. (1971) _Les mots sous les mots. Les anagrammes de Ferdinand de Saussure_. Essai. Paris: Gallimard.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Mareike Buss is working as a researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Linguistics and Communication Studies (ISK), RWTH Aachen University, Germany. She is currently finishing her PhD thesis about 'iteration' as the central semiotic mechanism governing the interaction of language system and language use. Her research is concerned with usage-based models of language, functional theories of grammar, metaphorology and semiotics as well as the historiography of (modern) linguistics. She has co-edited and co-translated the German edition of the Saussurean Orangery Manuscripts.