Langue and parole

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Langue (French, meaning "language") and parole (meaning "speaking") are linguistic terms distinguished by Ferdinand de Saussure in his Course in General Linguistics. Langue encompasses the abstract, systematic rules and conventions of a signifying system; it is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users. Langue involves the principles of language, without which no meaningful utterance, "parole", would be possible. Parole refers to the concrete instances of the use of langue. This is the individual, personal phenomenon of language as a series of speech acts made by a linguistic subject.[1] Saussure did not concern himself overly with parole; however, the structure of langue is revealed through the study of parole. The distinction is similar to that made about language by Wilhelm von Humboldt, between energeia (active doing) and ergon (the product of that doing).[2] Saussure drew an analogy to chess to explain the concept of langue and parole. He compared langue to the rules of chess—the norms for playing the game—and compared the moves that an individual chooses to make—the individual's preferences in playing the game—to the parole.


  1. ^ de Saussure, F. (1986). Course in general linguistics (3rd ed.). (R. Harris, Trans.). Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company. (Original work published 1972). p. 9-10, 15.
  2. ^ "Language as a finished product, a set of tools forged for future use, is in fact a precipitate of the ongoing activity. It is created in speech, and is in fact being continuously recreated, extended, altered, reshaped. This Humboltdian notion is the basis for another famous contribution of Saussure, his distinction between langue and parole." Charles Taylor, The Importance of Herder, "Philosophical Arguments" (Harvard University Press, 1997), 97.