Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure is widely considered to be one of the forefathers of both linguistics and semiology, which is the philosophical study of the interpretation of signs and symbols. Most notably, Saussure introduced the idea that every word is a linguistic sign, which consists of two components: the signifier, or the phonetic form of a word (e.g., the word “dog” consists of two consonants split up by a vowel); and the signified, or the conceptual meaning underlying the sign (e.g., a dog is a furry animal that is commonly used as a household pet). Crucially, Saussure articulated the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign: the phonetic form and the underlying concept of the word “dog” have no natural link, and instead are the product of social interaction. The arbitrariness of meaning and form is a fundamental tenet of modern linguistics.
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