Expression (linguistics)

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An expression or equivalent ( synonymously ) a linguistic expression means various things in linguistics :

  1. the sensually perceptible of a linguistic sign (Signe);
  2. a linguistic unit in general;
  3. the function of expression as a function of language .

Expression as what is sensually perceptible in a sign

A (linguistic) term is understood in the linguistics primarily the sensually perceptible a (linguistic) character.

(Linguistic) expressions in the narrower sense are acoustic sounds or visual characters or symbols.

In Ferdinand de Saussure's two-sided conception of signs , the expression, i.e. H. the expression side (French signifiant , see also significant ), the content, the content side (French siginifié , see also signified ) opposite. The expression is thus the physical dimension of a language sign, i.e. the sequence of sounds or the character string.

The Danish linguist in the De Saussure tradition, Louis Hjelmslev, sees a strict, reciprocal relationship between the two sides of the sign: “An expression is expression only because it is the expression of a content, and a content is content only because it is the content of an expression . "

In colloquial language , the term “ concept ” is mostly used in the sense of “expression”, an example on the subject of precariat :

"The term appeared in French sociology as early as the early 1980s as a term for seasonal or temporary employment."

On the basis of a linguistic terminology, however, the term “precariat” appears in the early 1980s as a term for the then associated concept (the term) of seasonal employment.

A strict distinction must be made between a linguistic expression and the meaning of a linguistic expression.

Expression as a linguistic unit

The word “expression” also stands for an unspecified “ linguistic unit of any length: words, word sequences, sentences, sentence sequences, etc. ” as elements of the Langue .

Expression as a language function

Karl Bühler uses “expression” in his drawing model (rather communication model) on a different level. The expression is here - based on the speaker - a "symptom", expresses, for example, his mood and must not be equated with the "expression" based on the theory of signs ( see also: Organon model ). This is the direction in which the notion of expression in 18th century aesthetics goes, which means a subjective and suggestive commentary on an objective content: the same word can be spoken with fearful or courageous expression, a musical note can be sung expressively or without expression. Here the expression is not a proxy for its content, but offers clues for its interpretation. At the same time, the textless instrumental music received a special meaning as “expression without content” (cf. non-verbal communication ).

See also


  • Ferdinand de Saussure: Basic questions in general linguistics . 2nd Edition. De Greuyter, Berlin 1967, ISBN 3-11-000158-6 .
  • Karl Bühler: Language theory: the representation function of language . UTB, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-8252-1159-2 .


  1. Louis Hjelmslev: Prolegomena to a language theory . Hueber, Munich 1974, p. 30.
  2. From: Die Zeit, April 27, 2006, online edition, on the term / expression "Prekariat"
  3. Kutschera, Breitkopf: Introduction to Modern Logic. 8th edition, 2007, ISBN 978-3-495-482711 , p. 20
  4. ^ Hadumod Bußmann : Lexicon of Linguistics. 3. Edition. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 2002: "Expression"