Linguistic Arbitrariness According to Saussure

Essay, 2016

4 Pages



Ferdinand de Saussure is generally perceived the “father of modern linguistics”. Since he set the investigation on nature of sign. Sign is a combination of signifier (sound pattern) or signified (concept) for example a rose, when I say a rose so rose is a sound pattern “signifier’ and the concept of rose in our mind is “signified’ ’and the nature of sign in language is arbitrary.


Arbitrariness of sign means there is no logical or intrinsic relationship between signifier (sound pattern) Or signified (concept). For example in English-speaking society has agreed upon the word “dog” to refer to the four-legged animal with distinct features but in Urdu-speech community society the word “dog” used for a person shows his nature who has done something wrong or committed a crime.

Characteristics of sign

The sign is binary; It is comprised of two parts; the signifier (sound pattern) and signified (concept).

The sign is arbitrary; there is no natural reason why a signifier (sound pattern) is linked to a signified (concept).

The sign is relational; sign only makes sense in relation to other sign in same system.

The sign is differential; it defines things by what they are not rather than by what they are.


According to Saussure, the relation between the signifier and the signified is “arbitrary”, i.e. there is no direct connection between the shape and the concept (cf.Bussmann 1996) for example, there is no motivation behind why the letters C-A-T (or the sound of these phoneme) create precisely the picture of the little, tamed creature with hide, four legs and a tail in our brains. It is an aftereffect of ‘tradition’ speakers of the same dialect bunch have consumed (and realized) that these letters or sound summon a specific picture.

Keeping in mind the end goal to comprehend assertion, we ought to as a matter of first importance have a profound comprehension of what a “sign” is... As pre Saussure an etymological sign is a blend of an “idea” and a “sound Patten”

In any case, “idea” is a more proper term since it can allude to not just the substantial physical items in this present reality additionally those envisioned question or dynamic thoughts, for example, “God” “excellence”, “esteem” and so on. The “sound example” is not really a physical sound but rather “the hearse’s mental impression of a sound, as given to him by the confirmations of his detects. These two components are both mental in nature, so ‘’the etymological sign is, then, a two-sided mental element’’ the accompanying graph is utilized to outline sign


Let’s remind ourselves a lot of examples of arbitrariness nature of sign in a language for example the English word “Bike” refer to a mechanical thing use for transportation. The word bike is signifier (sound pattern) and the concept of bike a mechanical thing use for transportation is signified. But in Urdu speech community someone call “Bike” with the specific name ‘’shazadi’’ and in cause the concept in change even in Urdu speech community like a person who says ‘’Shazadi’’ to his bike but the other understand a ‘’girl’’. These both persons are belong to same speech community “Urdu”. Thus we can understand that the arbitrariness of sign is not only the different speech community but also in the same speech community. Let’s considered another example the word ‘’Lota’’. The literal meaning of Lota is a small spherical water container made of brass or copper used in ‘’bathroom’’, but on the other side the word Lota used for a person who has dull in mind or foolish in nature .

World around us

Let’s remind the world around us the word ‘’chamcha’’ means a spoon but in society people used for a person who has a servant of someone. Another example of arbitrariness of sign in a language the world around us like the world ‘’God’’. The word of God is signifier (sound Pattern) and the concept of god in our mind is signified but the concept of God is change in different religion. For example the word God use in Muslim community the concept of prayer of five times, mosque, etc. In Hindu community God word refer to minder, Pooja etc.

Time also change the concept of signifier as signified for example the word “mouse” is used for an animal but now day’s mouse refers to a computer device.

Let’s see us the arbitrary nature of sign in inductive or deductive reasoning.

Inductive reasoning

Specific to General

In past the word dog used for a specific dog but now day’s the word dog used for all kinds of dog.

Detective reasoning

General to specific

In past the word girl used for both gender male or female but now day’s the word girl used for a single gender female or woman


In the last we see that the arbitrary nature of sign in a language in ourselves and the world around us. Arbitrary is not only one language to another but also within the same language.

While examining the way of the language specialist sign Saussure reprimands the idea that things go before words. At the point when identifying with the lingual sign what Saussure basically does is to supplant real referential reality with the connoted. What the signifier focuses to is not something which exists outside of language, yet rather to a significance which is contained inside of human cognizance. The division in the middle of signifier and meant, which together make Saussure's lingual sign, is the premise for his consequent suggestion that everything picks up its importance out of being in basic oppositional relations with different segments.

Arbitrariness is in no way unique to human language: it is typical of animal signaling systems and of virtually every conceivable system of communication.


Duan, Manfu (2012). On the Arbitrary Nature of Linguistic Sign. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 54-59,

Arbitrary nature of linguistic sign (2010). Retrieved from


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Linguistic Arbitrariness According to Saussure
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linguistic, arbitrariness, according, saussure
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Khawaja Abdullah (Author), 2016, Linguistic Arbitrariness According to Saussure, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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