Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Langue is a term developed in linguistics to refer to a formal system of oppositions that underlies speech (parole).

explanatory context

In effect, langue is equivalent to language, where language is seen as a system of unmotivated or arbitrary signs that are related to each other and take their meaning from their relationships.

analytical review

Changing Minds (2002–2016) states:

Langue and parole are more than just 'language and speech' (although this is a useful quick way of remembering them).
La langue is the whole system of language that precedes and makes speech possible. A sign is a basic unit of langue.
Learning a language, we master the system of grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation. These are all elements of langue.
Langue is a system in that it has a large number of elements whereby meaning is created in the arrangements of its elements and the consequent relationships between these arranged elements.
Parole is the concrete use of the language, the actual utterances. It is an external manifestation of langue. It is the usage of the system, but not the system.
By defining Langue and Parole, Saussure differentiates between the language and how it is used, and therefore enabling these two very different things to be studied as separate entities.
As a structuralist, Saussure was interested more in la langue than parole. It was the system by which meaning could be created that was of interest rather than individual instances of its use.
Marxist Mikhail Bakhtin (1929) criticized the splitting of langue and parole as separating individuals and society where it matters most, at the point of production. He developed a 'dialogic' theory of utterances where language is understood in terms of how it orients the speaker/writer to the listener/reader. Words are subject to negotiation, contest and struggle. Language is strongly affected by social context.
Modification of langue at the point of parole is used to create new meaning, either where the speaker has limited grasp of language or where deliberate distortion is used.

associated issues

Changing Minds (2002–2016), 'Langue and Parole', available at, accessed 29 January 2013, still available 9 June 2019.

related areas

See also




copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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