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Auteur: Zdzisław WĄSIK

Epistemological perspectives on the bilateral sign and the duality of language exhibited in Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique générale

Abstract/Résumé: Basing on selected quotations from the French original and their translations into German (1931) and English (1959, 1983), the aim of this paper is to point out that the dualistic view of the linguistic sign encountered in Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique générale (1916) adheres to different philosophical traditions. In one passage, the readers learn that the sign is a twofold unity of two inseparable sides, signifié and signifiant, in which both parts are in equal measure psychic, and in the other, they are introduced into the view of language as a domain of articulation where the idea establishes itself in the sound and where the sound becomes a sign for the idea. To appreciate Saussure's stance, a number of philosophical debates over (1) speech and thought, (2) speech, thought and reality, as well as (3) speech and reality will be confronted. Moreover, with regard to the duality aspect, all conceptions of the sign will be reviewed in search of a common denominator. It will be shown that signs are specified either as a monistic entity or a pluralistic unit comprised of interrelated constituents, or as relations between those constituents. Further questions will be referred to their material or spiritual (corporeal or intelligible, concrete or abstract, real or ideal) forms, examined subjectively or objectively in their extraorganismic or intraorganismic realizations. As far as the hitherto known sign conceptions exhibit not only differences in terminology but also in their visual representations, a unified typological matrix encompassing all features and constituents specific for particular approaches to their modes of existence and manifestation forms will be proposed. Having brought an array of sign conceptions to the common denominator, this paper will demonstrate how their two main constituents, signans and signatum, are oscillating between extreme epistemological positions, such as: logical positivism, rational empiricism, empirical rationalism and absolute rationalism. The employment of a matrix assessing the provenience of dissimilar sign conceptions will help to explain ambiguities in the translation of the constituents of the bilateral sign called by Saussure as concept and image acoustique. Differences in the understanding of the original terms have without doubt their source in the lack of distinctions between an imaginationist psychology, which pertains to the mental activity of visualizing the shape of cognized phenomena and events as individual tokens, and a conceptualist psychology, which exposes the mental recalling of characteristic (or similar) features of phenomena and events that are formed and concluded as general types.