Cette transformation du discours littéraire en discourse scientifique - qui sera (du moins, pour la tradition occidentale) à peu près definitivement formulé par Aristote - résulta d'un effort immense et vraiment langagier des Présocratiques, et cet effort devait être accompagné d'un effort linguistique, des élaborations théoriques des relations complexes entre l'univers, la pensée et le language, et entre la langue et son usage.
--Ferdinand de Saussure,
"Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure"
Revue Suisse de Linguistique Generale
Société genèvoise de linguistique
.....In his own investigation of "the life of signs in society," [Ferdinand] de Saussure, the founder of modern linguistics, saw language as a binary system consisting of an arbitrarily related signifier (the sound) and signified (the concept). Jacques Lacan developed this concept of the nature of the sign as both arbitrary and diacritical, a fundamental concept of sexuality in Freudian psychology, into a psychoanalytic theory that has had great impact on feminist theory. Jacques Derrida argued from the basis of this arbitrary and diacritical nature of the sign that language is essentially indeterminate--that there is no origin of meaning--and that there is no prelinguistic self. Because the issue of gender is fundamentally an issue of representation, for feminists the study of signs has become the study of gendered signs, and the arbitrary and diacritical nature of the sign is the site where semiotics and feminism intersect.
.....Arbitrariness means that the relation between the sign and its referent is neither a necessary nor natural one. From here, we could argue against claims of an essential nature of woman, because woman as a sign is a constructed category. A complication that arises from this constructedness is that, because the recognition of women as a distinct social group was a founding moment for feminism, the arbitrariness of the sign at first seems to threaten a fundamental aspect of feminism, that is, its claim that there is a category called woman. But by denaturalizing the category, the arbitrariness of the sign opens up for analysis the many ways in which woman is constructed as subject within an oppressive system.
.....In its diacritical nature, the sign takes on its meaning only out of its difference from other signs. This meaning-making through difference has led to the insight that the categories of man and woman stand in diacritical relation to one another and, moreover, that this binary opposition is at the heart of language. Hélène Cixous argued that Western philosophy and literary thought is a series of male/female oppositions which, no matter the terms, always translate in a patriarchal value system into positive/negative. To this binary system, Cixous opposes a multiple, heterogeneous difference as the feminine.
--Mary Anne Stewart Boelcskevy,
edited by Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace