Unlike other fields of study such as science, linguistic is very tricky. If scientists are studying about a rock, then they can simply put the rock under a microscope; and they can study what it is and what is there. In linguistic, however, different perspectives yield different results. Meaning, different kinds of microscopes will yield different objects as if the microscopes were creating new objects. Ferdinand de Saussure approaches this phenomenon of linguistic by asserting a new perspective of language called Structuralism.
Saussure uses the term langue and parole, and distinguishes them to explain the basis of his theory. When people talk about the same thing in different words, that ‘speech’ is called parole. Different people have different ways of speaking. However, they are still able to communicate with each other. This process is made possible through a social structure called langue. According to Saussure, langue is a structure of language at any one moment. It is a concrete system that has formed over periods of time. In other words, langue is essential. Parole is a person’s instant usage of language, and it exists within langue.
Based on langue, parole can take many different forms. Parole only exists when there is langue, and langue can be exposed through parole. In contrast to parole, langue is not situational. There may be hundreds of different parole about something, but they will be all based on the same langue. The langue is not influenced by the environment or situations. Based on the concept of langue and parole, Saussure takes further analysis of language. Saussure uses the term ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ to explain the relationship between ‘an acoustic image or sound pattern’ and ‘the concept’.
Before Saussure, traditional study of linguistic considered that each word or signifier was designated to a specific object or concept, as if the sign itself was the signified. Saussure, however, revealed that the relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. In other words, it is not natural to think about the animal dog when people see the word ‘dog’. It is because of the langue or the structure that makes it possible for people to relate them. According to Saussure, langue, or the structure of language is cultural and social. It requires a community of speakers.
It is a contract-agreed convention among the people. For example, the word ‘dog’ is already contract-agreed to represent the pet animal dog in the structure of the community of English speaking people. The structure of language lets the signifier point to its signified. In the Course in General Linguistics, both branches of linguistic are mentioned: synchronic and diachronic system. Synchronic system shows the language structure at any one moment whereas diachronic system shows the evolution of language over time or at different times. Saussure advocates synchronic system because the language structure changes constantly.
As explained above, Saussure approaches the study of linguistic by looking at the whole structure of language. The structure of language is a social and cultural product. Culture constantly changes, meaning the language structure is as well. Therefore, it is not possible to study linguistics with diachronic system. There has to be one specific moment to be able to look at the structure of language. Also, diachronic system focuses on each element of language rather than the whole structure. Since Saussure argues that the linguistic should be studied with approach to the whole structure of language, thus, he advocates the synchronic system.
To summarize, Saussure’s structuralism bases on the concept of langue. In the study of linguistic, there are unclear distinctions between the body language, spoken language, written language, and sign language, etc. Saussure argues that studying linguistic as the whole structure is the one solution without facing dualities. Linguistic structure is independently definable whereas looking at a certain aspect of word or language stirs up so many complementarities. Saussure separates a sign into two different parts: the signifier and the signified.
Saussure asserts that the relationship between them is arbitrary, and that necessitates the social structure of language. The structure of language is a social and cultural convention of the language people use in a community. Here, the structure can also be said to be langue, whereas each people’s speech can be named parole. Because the structure changes gradually over time, one individual or society cannot change it. However, they can choose to speak with different words within the structure. Because the structure is constantly evolving, synchronic system is suitable for linguistic study.