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Auteur: Svitlana ZHABOTYNSKA

Saussure's Theory Of The Linguistic Sign: A Cognitive Perspective

Abstract/Résumé: This paper discusses Saussure’s (1966) idea of the linguistic sign as a two-sided entity, combination of a concept / meaning and a sound image. The discussion employs cognitive mapping defined as representation of the experienced world in the human mind. Cognitive maps are invariably incomplete and partially distorted (Downs & Stea 1973). Thus, information retained in them is a mental construal not equated with the world per se. In language, mapping has three directions (1) the experienced world > the thought / meaning of a linguistic sign; (2) the meaning of a linguistic sign > its internal form; (3) the internal form of a linguistic sign > its external form. WORLD > THOUGHT / MEANING OF A SIGN. Cognitive mapping depends on attention patterns (Talmy 2000), which single out particular fragments of the experienced world. Registered by the mind, they become meanings of linguistic signs. Incompleteness of the signified is a topic of the long-standing discussion about the boundaries between “linguistic” and “encyclopedic” meanings. Deviation of a linguistic meaning from the canonical pattern may be illustrated by Langacker’s (2008) examples of changing the viewer's position from static to dynamic, as in: 'The forest is getting thicker', where the sentence meaning implies that the viewer is in motion. MEANING > LINGUISTIC FORM / INTERNAL FORM. A motivated sign has its external and internal forms. The external form is the sound form of a sign. The internal form is a fragment of meaning immediately represented in the external form (Potebnya 1895/1993); e.g. cat-chaser – of a dog. Deviations of the internal form occur when it departs from the “reality”. These are the cases of metaphor (a lion – of a person) and counterfactuals: oxymoron (terribly beautiful), irony (bright ‘stupid’), etc. LINGUISTIC FORM: INTERNAL FORM > EXTERNAL FORM. The internal form of a sign is structured with an onomasiological model (Dokulil 1962, Kubryakova 1978) that includes the basis (target concept), the feature (property of the basis), and the link between them. The external form of a linguistic sign may represent its onomasiological model fragmentarily; e.g. “BIKE (basis) HAS (link) THREE WHEELS (feature)”– three-wheeler (the missing link), three wheels (the missing basis and link). Deviation of the external form, its considerable departure from the internal form, is triggered by semantic compression; e.g. guilty money ‘the money that makes one guilty’. Therefore, emergence of language as a sign system may results from cognitive mapping. Our thought is mapped upon the experienced world, yielding the meanings of linguistic signs. Internal forms of linguistic signs are mapped upon their meanings, and the external forms of linguistic signs are mapped upon their internal forms.