François NEMO

Arbitrariness of the Sign, Arbitrariness of the Word, Arbitrariness of the Morpheme

This paper aims to demonstrate that the semantic principles defended by Saussure, namely the principle of linearity of the signifiant and the principle of arbitrariness of the sign, cannot be applied to a single notion of sign. It discusses first the assimilation of the notion of sign with the notion of word, and shows all the shortcomings associated with it. It then discusses the emergence of a characterization of morphemes as minimal signs and as grammar-free units encoding a post-Benvenistian signification. It finally discusses the polymorphic nature of morphemes, showing that the non-linearity of the morphemic signifiant and other forms of polymorphy imply the coexistence of arbitrary morphemes and non-arbitrary words.

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