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Syntagm and Paradigm

 

Explanations > Critical Theory > Saussure > Syntagm and Paradigm

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Syntagm and paradigm govern how signs relate to one another.

Syntagm

A syntagmatic relationship is one where signs occur in sequence or parallel and operate together to create meaning.

The sequential nature of language means that linguistic signs have syntagmatic relationships.

Thus, for example, the letters in a word have syntagmatic relationship with one another, as do the words in a sentence or the objects in a picture.

Syntagmatic relationships are often governed by strict rules, such as spelling and grammar. They can also have less clear relationships, such as those of fashion and social meaning.

Paradigm

A paradigmatic relationship is one where an individual sign may be replaced by another.

Thus, for example, individual letters have a paradigmatic relationship with other letters, as where one letter is used, another may replace it (albeit changing meaning). Letters and numbers do not have a paradigmatic relationship.

Items on a menu have paradigmatic relationship when they are in the same group (starters, main course, sweet) as a choice is made. Courses have a sequential (syntagmatic) relationship, and thus an item from the starter menu does not have a paradigmatic relationship with the sweet menu.

Paradigmatic relationships are typically associative, in that both items are in a single membership set.

Discussion

An individual sign (a unit) has no separate meaning, and only delivers 'value' in relation to other units in related sets. Thus a poodle dog has meaning only in relation to other types of dog.

The table below illustrates syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships. The horizontal items have syntagmatic relationships as they follow on from one another. The vertical items have paradigmatic relationships as in each column, items can be substituted for one another.

 

Relationships <-------- Syntagmatic -------->
|

Paradigmatic

|

A dog fell in this chair
The cat sat on the mat
That man ate by a hat

See also

Use of Language, Theories about conforming

 

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