Summary: This home video of 2-year-old Khaliyl Iloyi rapping with his father can be used to illustrate Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure's (1857-1913) concepts of langue and parole which, for Saussure, comprise a larger system of signs he calls language. Langue entails the total system of possibilities; it is the abstract set of structured rules that a given speech community internalizes. Parole, on the other hand, consists of individual speech acts and the message contained within them. Saussure argues that individuals don't pick and choose what belongs to langue or parole; rather, langue is social (in that it operates according to a set of rules that are in place before and after our existence) and parole is individual. Another way Saussure understood this distinction was that langue is a static, synchronic system while parole is diachronic and contingent. This video clip illustrates how, even at age two, Khaliyl understands the basic underlying structure of language (langue), even if he has yet to master the meaning of individual speech acts (parole). He is engaging in the social enterprise of langue in that he has internalized the abstract rules of language for his speech community, even though a meaningful message has yet to be put into practice (parole). Instructors should point out that Khaliyl's rap does not map perfectly onto Saussure's notion of langue, in that Saussure would consider grammar an example of the structured rules of language---clearly, Khaliyl is not adhering to any grammatical set of rules. Similarly, Saussure would include performance as part of the meaningful speech act that makes up parole; here, Khaliyl obviously demonstrates an understanding of the appropriate performance of the speech act he is attempting to convey. Nonetheless, viewers can still be encouraged to use the clip in order to think about the ways in which Khaliyl's rap does and does not illustrate classical understandings of langue and parole. This discussion of Saussure would be useful in a social theory course that examines structuralism (including the theories of Claude Lévi-Strauss), as well as post-structuralism, as it can be used to illustrate the ideas against which the post-structuralists were reacting.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp