“in language there are only differences without positive terms" (40)
Saussure is stating that the way to understand language is by having differences. We understand dark by understanding light. We know something and understand it by what it is not. For example, we understand happiness and joy by knowing that it is not sorrow. I believe when Saussure states that differences are without positive terms, he is referring to relativity. Saussure is stating that the structure of the word will stay the same but its value and meaning may differ. Thus, there can be no definitive term because it is relative to its society and likely to change in time.
It is also important to note the relationship between the signified and signifier when reading Saussure. The signified and signifier break down the linguistic structure and give value and meaning to language. The signifier relates to the sound or image and the concept or icon represents the signified. Thus the two representations give meaning. When Saussure references that differences are not positive, he is referring to the possibility of the signified (icon or concept) being susceptible to change and modification.
What I take from Saussure is that our understanding of language is based on binary opposition, understanding language by what it does not represent or symbolize. I understand Saussure and structuralism by simply viewing language in a contextual form, looking at pattern, symmetry and unity within the text.
I view the reading and discussion on post structuralism earlier this week as an aid to understanding Saussure’s statement. Post structuralism provides another theory to compare what Saussure was addressing. Saussure’s argument was based more on linguistics whereas post structuralists are more abstract and base their theory on philosophical terms.
9 years ago