The ‘Social’ and the ‘Cognitive’ in Language. A Reading of Saussure, and Beyond


This is the text of a talk at Department of Philosophy, University of Essex, U.K., held on 28th April, 2011. It was written in New Delhi and Paris, and completed in Wivenhoe village, Essex. My Special thanks to Martin Henson and Patrice Maniglier at Essex and Max Zins in Paris.

The paper explores in depth the intertwining of the social and the cognitive aspects of language in Ferdinand de Saussure’s classic Course in General Linguistics. This text has been put to new use recently by philosopher Patrice Maniglier, La Vie énigmatique des signes. The central problem for Maniglier is the resuscitation of the Saussure’s central notion of the ‘sign’ in the context of AI [artificial intelligence] / Cognitive Science. The main question is whether a naturally and mechanically arising linguistic ‘sign’ can remain indefinitely open-ended in the sense of the poststructuralists, and whether new cognitive ‘cultural milieus’ are continuously created on the basis of human contacts. Saussure seems to have much to say on this.

Published at 10 July 2012