A particular quote I found intriguing in Saussure’s essay on General Linguistics occurs on page 851 and concerns the signs studied in language with relation to societal views on the construction of language:
Even when signs are studied from a social viewpoint only, the traits that attach language to the other social–those that are more or less voluntary–are emphasized; as a result, the goal is by-passed and the specific characteristics of semiology systems in general and of language in particular are completely ignored. (851)
I feel that Saussure is attempting to study a more complex system of language basing his judgements almost on subconscious elements within society or within the specific use of language. In the quote he alludes to the “less voluntary” traits of language that are studied, which implies he is attempting to look toward more subconscious levels of linguistic usage to fully understand society, or language itself. It seems that the author is fully aware of the social constructs of language and how society itself bases the signs and usage on a type of “social contract,” which inherently effects individual use of language. In this sense, while reading the essay, I can begin to understand how the Structuralists began to borrow from Saussure’s work and apply it in a more broad spectrum to regard pieces of literature. He seems to be interested in why certain patterns are used and almost is looking for a subconscious choice of words and language form the user, based on societal norms. Structuralism may have taken this viewpoint in order to understand the certain structures and patterns prevalent within texts themselves in order to understand society as a whole.
In a way, his work seemed very dense and slightly incomprehensible on first and second readings. I always felt like I began to understand how Structuralism grew from his work, but then lost my train of thought. Several times I had to return to Barry’s overview of the theory itself in order to fully comprehend his ideas and how they applied to theory itself.