With his Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (1879), Saussure demonstrated the heuristic potential of comparativism. With the Course in General Linguistics, he opened up an essential version of the structuralism that, through the diversity of its objects of study and the breadth of its considerations, succeeded in being claimed as their own by phonologists as much as by semiologists, philosophers of language and grammarians. How does the Saussurean corpus reconcile empiricism and theory in these different aspects?
What does linguistics owe to the publication of the Course in General Linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure? Does the impertinence of the question stem from our not knowing the answer, or that it is for the most part blatantly obvious? The evaluation of the (astonishing) career of this text of which Ferdinand de Saussure is neither the author nor the non-author demands our constantly renewed attention. We are dealing with the itinerary of a “dispossessed” thinking. Whether one considers the text as a “forgery”, as a “vulgate” or an “apocrypha”… the Course in General Linguistics is the key text for most of the currents of 20th-century linguistics. Actively (in the structuralisms, but also in Gustave Guillaume or Émile Benveniste) or reactively (in generativism, sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics…), the Course in General Linguistics constitutes a major landmark in the contemporary history of linguistic ideas (and of ideas generally…). How can we today evaluate the presence/absence of the Course in General Linguistics on the horizon of retrospection of the most current trends in linguistics?
Beyond the obvious case of linguistics, what do the human sciences owe to the publication a century ago of the Course in General Linguistics? Can we today put the question as directly as that? The structuralist reading of the CLG has led to the forming of a conceptual space designated as “structuralism” that itself has designated for many years a sort of common fund from which the human sciences have drawn for their definition and development. Phenomenology with Merleau-Ponty, anthropology with Lévi-Strauss, semiology with Greimas, for example, have profited from this space of ideas and have contributed, bit by bit, to ideologizing it. In parallel, because this movement issued from a new understanding of linguistics, the very relationship between the human sciences – in their totality and case by case – has been modified.
If the progressive, multiform invention of “structuralism” profited from the visibility of the human sciences in the 1960s and 1970s, what place does the CLG have in their theoretical work today?