Emanuele FADDA

Why a Peircean scholar should not stand against Saussure

Saussure and Peirce are viewed, almost unanimously, as the founding fathers of semiotics. Jakobson considered them someway compatible, and Eco, in his Theory of semiotics, combines their definitions of semiotics. In the last years, however, the gap between the two traditions has deepened, and scholars tend to take one side or the other, often ignoring even the basic tenets of the "opposite party". My point is that the (great) difference between the two models should not lead Peirce scholars to refuse legitimacy to (post-)saussurean semiology. I will present three arguments to support my claim.

1) Peircean scholars tend to consider saussurean binary model of the sign as referential. But that model is not actually binary in a peircean sense (if we take into account the relations between classes and single entities, it is in fact hyper-triadic) and not actually referential (as we know, reference has no place whatsoever in Saussure's semiology, just as in Peirce's semiotics).

2) The core notion of pragmatism – namely, habit – is present and effective throughout Saussure's system: all linguistic entities are but habits (namely, in Peirce's jargon, they are sentiments: norms of behaviour that work as instincts, even if they are not native. See Peirce 1898).

3) Saussure's semiology and Peirce's semiotics are not doing the same job. Peirce's object is the wide range of all possible semiosis, whereas Saussure's one is restricted to actual languages (and other institutions which can be compared to actual languages, and only insofar they can be compared). Saussure's semiology is consistent with the main principles of peircean semiotics, but it's not reducible to it: the ad hoc categories Saussure created to explain language as such are irreplaceable, and the categories of peircean semiotics, despite their complexity and uberty, are not sufficient to account for actual languages.

Bloomfield, Leonard (1924/1964), c. r. de Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, 19222 (Modern Language Journal 8, p. 317-319), CFS 21, p. 133-135.

Fadda, Emanuele, 2013. Peirce. Rome: Carocci.

Peirce, Charles Sanders, 1931-58, Collected Papers (ed. by Ch. Hartshorne, P. Weiss, A. W. Burks), Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press, 8 volumi

Peirce, Charles Sanders, 1898. Philosophy and the Conduct of Life. In = CP 1.616-677

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 19222. Cours de linguistique générale (ed. by Charles Bally & Albert Sechehaye). Lausanne & Paris: Payot. (Translated as Course in General linguistics. New York: Philosophical library, 1959).

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 2002. Ecrits de linguistique générale (ed. by Simon Bouquet & Rudolf Engler). Paris: Gallimard. (Translated as Writings in General Linguistics, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).