Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ferdinand De Saussure and Linguistics


 The source of modern structuralism and its strongest bastion to this day is linguistics. The work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) stands out in the development of structural linguistics and, ultimately, structuralism in various other fields. Of particular interest  is Saussure’s differentiation between langue and parole, which was to have enormous significance. 

Langue is the formal, grammatical system of language. It is a system of phonic elements whose relationships are governed, Saussure and his followers believed, by determinate laws. Much of linguistics since Saussure’s time has been oriented to the discovery of those laws. The existence of langue makes parole possible. Parole is actual speech, the way speakers use language to express themselves. Although Saussure recognized the significance of people’s use of language in subjective and often idiosyncratic ways, he believed that the individual’s use of language cannot be the concern of the scientifically oriented linguist. Such a linguist must look at langue, the formal system of language, not at the subjective ways in which it is used by actors.

Langue, then, can be viewed as a system of signs a structure and the meaning of each sign is produced by the relationship among signs within the system. Especially important are relations of difference, including binary oppositions. Thus, for example, the meaning of the word hot comes not from some intrinsic properties of the word but from the word’s relationship with, its binary opposition to, the word cold. Meanings, the mind, and ultimately the social world are shaped by the structure of language. Thus, instead of an existential world of people shaping their surroundings, we have here a world in which people, as well as other aspects of the social world, are shaped by the structure of language.

The concern for structure has been extended beyond language to the study of all sign systems. This focus on the structure of sign systems has been labeled “semiotics” and has attracted many followers.Semiotics is broader than structural linguistics because it encompasses not only language but also other sign and symbol systems, such as facial expressions, body language, literary texts, indeed all forms of communication.

Roland Barthes  often is seen as the true founder of semiotics. Barthes extended Saussure’s ideas to all areas of social life. Not only language but also social behaviors are representations, or signs: “Not just language, but wrestling matches are also signifying practices, as are TV shows, fashions, cooking and just about everything else in everyday life”. The “linguistic turn” came to encompass all social phenomena which in turn came to be reinterpreted as signs. 

Sociology and Anthropology


There are many fields in anthropology, namely; archaeology, linguistics, physical anthropology and social anthropology. Although, anthropology has been regarded as the study of early (primitive) cultures, and sociology ofthe more contemporary society. This distinction is no longer valid. 

Many of the early village studies in India have been done by social anthropologists. The tribal communities in India have, by and large, been studied by anthropologists, in both their physical and social aspects. There is, hence, some overlap between the areas of study of sociology and anthropology, particularly, social anthropology. Culture and social organisations are concepts studied in both these disciplines. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Female Genital Mutilation: Violence against women or a cultural norm

Clitoridectomy, the surgical removal of the clitoris is one of the worst types of violence against women. This type of female genital mutilation performed by a midwife, a tribal practitioner, or a doctor typically without anesthesia is common in African societies in countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Sudan, Egypt, and especially in Ethiopia and Somalia. 

The practice is known to exist in certain cultural groups in other nations around the world. Among members of these highly patriarchal societies, husbands demand that their wives be
 virgins at marriage and remain sexually
 faithful thereafter. The point of female genital mutilation is to eliminate sexual feeling, which, people assume, makes the girl less likely to violate sexual norms and thus be more desirable to men. 

In about one-fifth of all cases, an even more severe procedure, called infibulation, is performed, in which the entire external genital area is removed and the surfaces are stitched together, leaving only a small hole for urination and menstruation. Before marriage, a husband retains the right to open the wound and ensure himself of his bride’s virginity. 


Medically, the consequences of genital mutilation include more than the loss of sexual pleasure. Pain is intense and can persist for years. There is also danger of infection, infertility, and even death. Worldwide, estimates place the number at more than 100 million (World Health Organization, 2010).

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