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Language and Ideology - Essay Example

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Language and Ideology

That is, language does not exist without ideology and ideology does not exist without language. Due to its artificiality, language and its application through narrative is vulnerable to manipulation that functions as a justification for the interests of certain power relations within society. Since both language and ideology are culturally embedded, all forms of linguistic representation must be understood as constructed and mediated. The aim of the critic becomes the deconstruction of the form and content of social expression that is constituted through the dynamic inter-relation of language and the ideas that it supports and perpetuates.
To understand its relation to ideology, we must first examine how language is formulated from a material perspective. According to Ferdinand de Saussure's seminal analysis of the structure of words and their associated meanings, the former is never a transparent indicator of the latter. In his Course in General Linguistics, Saussure maintained that language should be divided into two components: "langue," referring to the entire body of a language, and "parole," referring to a specific utterance or individual act of speech within a language. The latter can only be comprehended within the larger system of the former. That is, the meaning of words or "signs" is derived from their relation to one another within a cumulative structure or system of signification.1 To illustrate this principle, Saussure drew a clearly discernable distinction between the "signifier," or word, and the "signified," or that to which the word refers or claims to represent. For example, the word "tree" is only indicative of the external, material object of a tree insofar as we believe and regard it to be. The word "tree" can just as easily be applied to other external, material objects. In this way, the formation of words and their meanings is an entirely artificial, constructed, and enclosed relation.2
Saussure's analysis of language instigated a radical rethinking of our understanding of subjectivity, culture, and power. Since the linguistic system of "signs," or "semiotics," is a product not of a natural relation between signifier and signified but of the human mind generating and organizing signs into meaning, Saussure concluded that the methodical study of languages would lead to new discoveries about human nature on both the individual and the collective level. Amongst the most influential thinkers to further this conclusion was the structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. In his 1958 work, Structural Anthropology, Levi-Strauss introduced structuralism as "the systematic attempt to uncover deep universal mental structures as these manifest themselves in kinship and larger social structures, in literature, philosophy and mathematics, and in the unconscious psychological patterns that motivate human behaviour"3 This project is an extension of Saussure's proposed science of semiology. As Saussure wrote, "Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable to linguistics, and the linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge."4 Applying Saussure's understanding of linguistic systems to other domains of social inquiry, such as methods of economic exchange, kinship, food, and myths, Levi-Strauss viewed ...Show more

Summary

In the twentieth century, previous assumptions about the possibility of a truthful replication of reality have been challenged by a number of theories which point to the borders and margins of representation, such as Marxism and Feminism, and to the inherent difficulties within language itself, now questioned as a source of stable and transparent expression…
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Language and Ideology essay example
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