30 Ferdinand de Saussure Quotes from the Swiss Linguist

Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist born in 1857, fundamentally influenced 20th-century linguistic sciences.

Early in his career, Saussure made notable contributions to comparative linguistics, especially with his work on Indo-European vowel systems.

Despite publishing only one book, his teachings had lasting impacts.

The posthumous “Cours de linguistique générale,” based on student notes, marked the inception of structural linguistics.

Ferdinand de Saussure

Saussure emphasized viewing language both synchronically (its state at a specific time) and diachronically (its evolution).

He introduced “parole” (individual speech) and “langue” (underlying speech system), pivotal concepts in the structuralism branch of linguistics.

Let’s go through some of top quotes by Ferdinand de Saussure.

Best Ferdinand de Saussure Quotes


A language presupposes that all the individual users possess the organs. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


Speech has both an individual and a social side, and we cannot conceive of one without the other. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


Written forms obscure our view of language. They are not so much a garment as a disguise. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


The connection between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Language is a system of signs that express ideas, and is therefore comparable to a system of writing, the alphabet of deaf-mutes, symbolic rites, polite formulas, military signals, etc. But it is the most important of all these systems. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


Everyone, left to his own devices, forms an idea about what goes on in language which is very far from the truth. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Any psychology of sign systems will be part of social psychology – that is to say, will be exclusively social; it will involve the same psychology as is applicable in the case of languages. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

The critical principle demanded an examination, for instance, of the contribution of different periods, thus to some extent embarking on historical linguistics. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

It is useful to the historian, among others, to be able to see the commonest forms of different phenomena, whether phonetic, morphological or other, and how language lives, carries on and changes over time. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Top Ferdinand de Saussure Quotes

Linguistics will have to recognise laws operating universally in language, and in a strictly rational manner, separating general phenomena from those restricted to one branch of languages or another. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Language furnishes the best proof that a law accepted by a community is a thing that is tolerated and not a rule to which all freely consent. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


A linguistic system is a series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage: these are syntagmatic relations, of which I have spoken. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

In fact, from then on scholars engaged in a kind of game of comparing different Indo-European languages with one another, and eventually they could not fail to wonder what exactly these connections showed, and how they should be interpreted in concrete terms. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Famous Ferdinand de Saussure Quotes


Psychologically our thought-apart from its expression in words-is only a shapeless and indistinct mass. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

The linguistic entity is not accurately defined until it is delimited, i.e. separated from everything that surrounds it on the phonic chain. These delimited entities or units stand in opposition to each other in the mechanism of language. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not directly evoke things. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

In the lives of individuals and societies, language is a factor of greater importance than any other. For the study of language to remain solely the business of a handful of specialists would be a quite unacceptable state of affairs. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.


Writing obscures language ; it is not a guise for language but a disguise. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

In general, the philological movement opened up countless sources relevant to linguistic issues, treating them in quite a different spirit from traditional grammar; for instance, the study of inscriptions and their language. But not yet in the spirit of linguistics. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

I’m almost never serious, and I’m always too serious. Too deep, too shallow. Too sensitive, too cold hearted. I’m like a collection of paradoxes. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

The first of these phases is that of grammar, invented by the Greeks and carried on unchanged by the French. It never had any philosophical view of a language as such. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

It is one of the aims of linguistics to define itself, to recognize what belongs within its domain. In those cases where it relies upon psychology, it will do so indirectly, remaining independent. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Popular Ferdinand de Saussure Quotes

Time changes all things; there is no reason why language should escape this universal law. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

The very special place that a language occupies among institutions is undeniable, but there is much more to be said-, a comparison would tend rather to bring out the differences. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Henceforth, language studies were no longer directed merely towards correcting grammar. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

For the study of language to remain solely the business of a handful of specialists would be a quite unacceptable state of affairs. In practice, the study of language is in some degree or other the concern of everyone. But a paradoxical consequence of this general interest is that no other subject has fostered more absurd notions, more prejudices, more illusions, or more fantasies. From a psychological point of view, these errors are of interest in themselves. But it is the primary task of the linguist to denounce them, and to eradicate them as completely as possible. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Of all social institutions language is least amenable to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert by nature, is a prime conservative force. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

Outside speech, the association that is made in the memory between words having something in common creates different groups, series, families, within which very diverse relations obtain but belonging to a single category: these are associative relations. ~ Ferdinand de Saussure.

So these were the 30 top Ferdinand de Saussure quotes and sayings.

If you like these quotes and sayings, then you can also read my other posts on Eugene H. Peterson quotes and Fawad Afzal Khan quotes.

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Chandan Negi
Chandan Negi

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