1. Ferdinand Mongin de Saussure:
Born in Geneva in 1857, showed early signs of considerable talent and intellectual ability. After a year of studying Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and a variety of courses at the University of Geneva, he commenced graduate work at the University of Leipzig in 1876. Two years later at 21 years Saussure studied for a year at Berlin, where he wrotehis only full-length work, Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (Dissertation on the Primitive Vowel System in Indo-European Languages). He returned to Leipzig and was awarded his doctorate in 1880. Soon afterwards he relocated to Paris, where he would lecture on ancient and modern languages. He taught in Paris for 11 years before returning to Geneva in1891. Saussure lectured on Sanskrit and Indo-European at the University of Geneva for the remainder of his life. It was not until 1906 that Saussure began teaching the Course of General Linguistics that would consume the greater part of his attention until his death in 1913 in Vufflens-le-Château, VD Switzerland.
While a student, Saussure published an important work inIndo-European philology that proposed the existence of ghosts in Proto-Indo-European called sonant coefficients. The Scandinavian scholar Hermann Möller suggested that these might actually be laryngeal consonants, leading to what is now known as the laryngeal theory. It has been argued that the problem Saussure encountered, of trying to explain how he was able to make systematic and predictive hypothesesfrom known linguistic data to unknown linguistic data, stimulated his development of structuralism. Saussure's predictions about the existence of primate coefficients/laryngeals and their evolution proved a resounding success when the Hittite texts was discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later. Saussure's ideas had a major impact on the development of linguistic theory in the first half of the20th century. Two currents of thought emerged independently of each other, one in Europe, the other in America. The results of each incorporated the basic notions of Saussurian thought in forming the central tenets of structural linguistics. In Europe, the most important work was being done by the Prague School. Most notably, Nikolay Trubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson headed the efforts of the PragueSchool in setting the course of phonological theory in the decades following 1940. Jakobson's universalizing structural-functional theory of primatology, based on a markedness hierarchy of distinctive features, was the first successful solution of a plane of linguistic analysis according to the Saussurean hypotheses. Elsewhere, Louis Hjelmslev and the Copenhagen School proposed new interpretationsof linguistics from structuralist theoretical frameworks. In America, Saussure's ideas informed the distributionalism of Leonard Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldian Structuralism of those scholars guided by and furthering the practices established in Bloomfield's investigations and analyses of language, such as Eugene Nida, Bernard Bloch, George L. Trager, Rulon S. Wells III, Charles Hockett, andthrough Zellig Harris, the young Noam Chomsky. In addition to Chomsky's theory of Transformational grammar, other contemporary developments of structuralism include Kenneth Pike's theory of tagmemics, Sidney Lamb's theory of stratificational grammar, and Michael Silverstein's work.
Saussure is one of the founding fathers of semiotics. His concept of thesign/signifier/signified/referent forms the core of the field.
Influence outside linguistics
The principles and methods employed by structuralism were soon adopted by scholars and literary thinkers, such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, and implemented in their areas of study (literary studies/philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology respectively). However, their expansive interpretations of...