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Ferdinand de Saussure
Born in Geneva, he laid the foundation for many developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He perceived linguistics as a branch of a general science of signs he proposed to call semiology (now generally known as semiotics).
His work Cours de linguistique générale (Course in General Linguistics) was published posthumously in 1916 by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye based on lecture notes. This became a seminal linguistics work, perhaps the seminal structuralist linguistics work, in the 20th century.
Saussure emphasized a synchronic view of linguistics in contrast to the diachronic (historical study) view of the 19th century. (For more on historical study of language, see Philology.) The synchronic view looks at the structure of language as a functioning system at a given point of time. This distinction was a breakthrough and became generally accepted.
Another important distinction is that between syntactic relations, which take place in a given text, and paradigmatic relations.
Saussure's theories were developed beyond structuralism by Jacques Derrida. Derrida pointed out that if signs are defined in relation to one another, then there is no objective position outside language from which language can understand itself. This leads to an infinite regress of definition, or différance.
Saussure's theories were also instrumental in Jacques Lacan's return to Freud. Saussure's statement that "the bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary" was one of the contributions that enabled Lacan to integrate the fields of psychoanalysis and structural linguistics .
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