LINGUISTIC SIGN. A term in especially early 20c LINGUISTICS. Such a SIGN has two parts: a signifier (French signifiant), the form; something signified (signifié), what is referred to, the meaning. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, language was a system of signs, in which each formed part of an interdependent whole où tout se tient (where everything holds together). He stressed the arbitrary nature of the sign, evidently covering two notions of arbitrariness: (1) That there is mostly no connection between the two parts of the sign: there is no intrinsic link between the sound sequence cow and the animal it refers to. Apparent exceptions, as with onomatopoeic words (bang, coo, quack) are relatively few and vary from language to language. (2) That each language cuts up the world in different, arbitrary ways. This viewpoint is controversial, as linguists are divided as to whether there is an underlying reality which is managed differently by various languages, or whether the cutting up is as arbitrary as Saussure suggested. See SEMANTICS, SEMIOTICS.
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