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Auteur: Lars Erik ZEIGE

From Saussure to sociology and back to linguistics. Langue/parole and signifiant/signifié in Niklas Luhmann's theory as basis for a model of language change

Abstract/Résumé: The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998), a student among others of Talcott Parsons (1902–1979), was the most prominent figure in sociological systems theory towards the end of the last century. His ‘Theory of Social Systems’, laid out over a period from the end of the 1970s to his death, absorbs numerous academic traditions, e.g. phenomenology, information and communication theory, theory of perception, form analysis and evolutionary thinking, but interestingly enough no explicit theory of language. It does, though, include a reception of Saussurean semiology and general conception of language. This talk gives at first an exemplary introduction to how Luhmann’s sociological thinking processes the dichotomies of signifiant/signifié and langue/parole. He applies the media theory of the 1920’s Gestalt theorist Fritz Heider (1896–1988) and the ‘laws of form’ of George Spencer Brown (*1923) to construct linguistic signs as Zweiseitenformen (‘dualities’). This re-interpretation of Saussure’s two-sided model of the sign is much closer related to the original Saussurean thinking—as it has been re-discovered in the so called ‘Orangery-writings’—than to the positions laid out in the ‘Cours’ by Bally and Sechehaye. It is then possible to contradict the commonly assumed notion of Saussure’s terminological pairs as being simple dichotomies. They are indeed dialectically structured and inextricably intertwined dualities. Likewise Luhmann subjects the langue/parole dichotomy to his principles of theory building. As parts of a Zweiseitenform the ‘langue’ is re-interpreted as a STRUCTURE of social systems, whereas the ‘parole’ appears as event-like ELEMENTS of social systems. This does contradict the Saussurean notion of language being an autonomous system. It strengthens, however, the notion of grammatical structures. The talk will then show how the approach to language as a structure of social systems can be of use for a sociologically inspired model of language and language change, and to specify the mutual relationships between grammar, psychological and social systems. In general this talk wants to table the interesting example of repeated and mutually beneficial joinings of an idea in the history of science. (See for an introduction in English: Luhmann, Niklas. 1995. Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford UP.)