I wonder if sign language would be "parole" according to Saussurian linguistics. After all, parole can be denied as

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.

It seems like a contradiction, but perhaps sign language is parole? (Even if sign language isn't as arbitrary as signs in language)

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    As with any other language, the use of sign language is parole, and the language's structuring principles-- 'phonology', morphology, syntax and so forth--are langue. Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 10:19
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    @Teusz What makes you think that there is any difference between spoken languages and sign languages, when it comes to the langue-parole distinction?
    – michau
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 13:49
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    you should think of the gestures of sign languages as analogous to the phones (phonemes, whatever) of spoken language. in fact there are phonemic theories that treat phonemes as essentially vocal gestures.
    – mobileink
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


In the 1960’s, the linguist William Stokoe showed that the American Sign Language is a full fledged language, and subsequent linguistic studies confirmed that sign languages share all the characteristics of oral languages (expect the obvious sign/sound difference), and there is no reason to consider them differently. So ASL is “langue”, and the concrete signs used fore example in this video are “parole”, in a way similar to the analogue situations in English or any other language.

By sign languages, I mean of course the languages used by deaf communities. The common misunderstanding that they’re not true language, might come from the fact that it is common for people to express simple notions by gestures (finger-pointing, expressing you’re tired, etc.), but this kind of signs are not a sign language, they are at best the equivalents of utterance like “Oh !” and “Yummy !” in English !

By contrast, sign languages can really express any notion an oral language can. I can’t personally speak any sign language, but, to give an example which impressed me, I have seen a live translation in French Sign Language of a PhD defence on biophotonics, where notions ranging from axon anatomy to optical interfermometry were discussed.

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