Are We Lost in Translation? Ferdinand De Saussure on Language and Communication

“Language is a system of signs that expresses ideas”

There are many ways in which we communicate, however the most obvious one is through spoken word, therefore we must speak the same language in order to understand one another.  The only one universal language we have is body language, this gives away everything about a person without even uttering a single word. However, you need to be an expert in that field to understand it fully, but for us everyday folks we rely on simple spoken and written form of communication to comprehend and state our thoughts and vice versa.

In Ferdinand De Saussure’s most influential work;  Course in General Linguistics, he speaks on the subject of language and believed it can be analysed into a system of varying elements, known as the linguistic signs; Signifier and Signified. The Signifier is the mental image we have of a sound-image and Signified is a system of the relationship between sound-image and concepts, since Saussure held that both aspects of sign are mental and not as a result of the relationship between words and things. Therefore, every message is made up of signs, thus language is a system of signs as he stated that semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign, which he labelled semiology.

Like they say communication is key, and with the increase in technology the methods are endless. As well as there being different methods of communication there are also many different languages spoken. Language seems to put our thoughts into perspective, it’s a way of finding sense in what we are thinking. “without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula” Ferdinand De Saussure.  By expressing ourselves through language , we make our thoughts into a more tangible form. Saussure even goes as far as to say that  if we are left with just our thoughts alone without language this will basically result in a colossal of mess” “Psychologically our thought-apart from its expression in words-is only a shapeless and indistinct mass.” Ferdinand De Saussure. For example a story can be told through one image alone;  that image encourages our thinking process and imagination and according to Saussure for the thoughts to be of substance it must be then spoken in words to express and develop them fully.

Since communication is a very important part of our everyday lives it has been fine tuned in a way where we have systems in place (i.e application forms etc) where it is simplified in order to make it easier to  understand and get things done efficiently.   Moreover, at school there is a great emphasis on teaching a specific method  on; spelling, grammar and punctuation (the methods vary from school to school). This is so we can articulate in a much clearer way, for it to be understood by all. However, these methods are not strictly the only way one can express themselves, for example I personally don’t always stick to the rules as you can tell when it comes to grammar and punctuation, when writing for my blog I prefer to let it flow naturally as I see best as appose to what is seen as grammatically correct.  I of course use the rules as a simple guideline, but I don’t use it word for word unless I’m writing an academic essay or anything of a similar nature. For me free styling is another form of expression and for me its the most authentic, as its not always possible to be able to fully express oneself when following within rigid lines. When I read free flowing pieces I tend to understand the message in the writing better and about the author, more so than when written in a standard form.

Having said that the formal systems we do have in place are important as they are efficient and prevent chaos (for the most part).  While, it can be tedious at times it is essential. However, although we have communication systems in place, how come somewhere along the line there’s always some form of miscommunication?  Is it because we are not expressing ourselves properly , or because we can only express ourselves so much? Is there a disconnect between our thoughts and what we say? almost like something being lost in translation?

Let me know your thoughts,

Speak Soon,

Sophia Alisa Ali©
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3 thoughts on “Are We Lost in Translation? Ferdinand De Saussure on Language and Communication

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