12 September 2005

Saussure versus Wittgenstein

Semantics (the sub-branch of Linguistics that deals with the study of meaning) can be a pain in the ass. I have a homework assignment due tomorrow about the two thinkers whose photos appear on this entry. Good thing I am done with the assignment.

The assignment was about contrasting the two viewpoints of Ferdinand de Saussure and Ludwig Wittgenstein regarding language and meaning. And these two people have strikingly different points of view regarding that.

Saussure states that language serves as a framework to separate the different flows of concepts that we have. It is language that serves as a tool to distinguish a concept from the next. Thus, a word may have one central concept and various different sub-concepts extending from that central concept. The word eye for example can mean the physical optical faculty that humans have, or it may mean the center of a storm. Both have the same central concept of roundness and centrality.

Wittgenstein on the other hand argues that language is a convention between the speakers. Whenever two speakers talk to each other, they make up a convention between them that a certain word will mean a certain concept. There is no central concept involved in the different "meanings" a word can have. Thus, the "eye" of the speaker-pair that uses it to convey the physiological meaning is different and unrelated to the "eye" that a different speaker-pair uses for the meteorological meaning.

If Saussure's view is the compositional view of meaning, then Wittgenstein's view is the constructivist view of meaning.

So folks, which one do you prefer?

On a different topic, our toilet is fixed. A handyman came with his van and pumped our toilet. In five minutes, Bernoulli seems to be enjoying himself again.

I'll end this entry here. It is mid-morning, and I have a meeting at noon. Oh, before I end, try to look at Ches' blog, his entry for September 12 regarding the differences between the way men and women take a shower is hilarious.


  1. Well, I suppose Wittgenstein's concept is more the way I see language, this convention is crucial to the way I have conversations. Of course, it is hard to make judgements based on small snippets of each philosophy, and despite being a Literature major, I haven't delved into language theory that much.

  2. That was an awesome post. I never really gave it much thought that so many things could have such a different way to look at them.

  3. interesting post! i would say i would agree with melusina.

    btw, im glad the toilet is fixed.

  4. Wow, that opened up my eyes a little more, thanks :0)