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Langue and Parole

 

Explanations > Critical Theory > Saussure > Langue and Parole

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Langue and parole are more than just 'language and speech' (although this is a useful quick way of remembering them).

Langue

La langue is the whole system of language that precedes and makes speech possible. A sign is a basic unit of langue.

Learning a language, we master the system of grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation. These are all elements of langue.

Langue is a system in that it has a large number of elements whereby meaning is created in the arrangements of its elements and the consequent relationships between these arranged elements.

Parole

Parole is the concrete use of the language, the actual utterances. It is an external manifestation of langue. It is the usage of the system, but not the system.

Discussion

By defining Langue and Parole, Saussure differentiates between the language and how it is used, and therefore enabling these two very different things to be studied as separate entities.

As a structuralist, Saussure was interested more in la langue than parole. It was the system by which meaning could be created that was of interest rather than individual instances of its use.

Marxist Mikhail Bakhtin (1929) criticized the splitting of langue and parole as separating individuals and society where it matters most, at the point of production. He developed a 'dialogic' theory of utterances where language is understood in terms of how it orients the speaker/writer to the listener/reader. Words are subject to negotiation, contest and struggle. Language is strongly affected by social context.

Modification of langue at the point of parole is used to create new meaning, either where the speaker has limited grasp of language or where deliberate distortion is used.

See also

Synchrony and Diachrony

 

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