Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure
Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure.

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In linguistics, the individual expressions of language in contrast to langue, language as an abstract system of signs.

This distinction between langue and parole was first made by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in his Course in General Linguistics (1916).


From the French paraula, "speech"


  • "Can there be a science of language, if so, do we have to stomp on it first to make it amenable? Do we have to 'murder to dissect,' to quote Wordsworth? There are several things the would-be linguistic scientist can do. One is to slice up language in such a way as to have one part that lives and moves about in crazy ways, and another that stays in one place and thus can be dissected to reveal its inner nature. This is essentially what Saussure did, when he distinguished parole (the unruly side) from langue (the quiet side). Parole refers to the actual language use of individual people in their everyday lives, and is too erratic to be studied, according to Saussure. Langue is the shared social structure of language, and is richly structured as a system of systems. The latter is what can be investigated scientifically." ​(Leo Van Lier, The Ecology and Semiotics of Language Learning: A Sociocultural Perspective. Birkhäuser, 2004)
  • "Langue/Parole--The reference here is to the distinction made by the Swiss linguist Saussure. Where parole is the realm of the individual moments of language use, of particular 'utterances' or 'messages,' whether spoken or written, langue is the system or code (le code de la langue') which allows the realization of the individual messages." (Stephen Heath, Translator's Note in Image-Music-Text by Roland Barthes. Macmillan, 1988)

The Analogy of a Chess Game

"The langue-parole dichotomy was introduced into linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure (1916), who used the analogy of a chess game to illustrate what it entails. To engage in a game of chess both players must first know the langue of chess--the rules of movement and the overall strategy of how to play. Langue imposes constraints on, and provides a guide to, the choices each player can make in the act of playing the game. The actual choices characterize parole--the ability to apply the abstract knowledge of chess (langue) to a specific game-playing situation." (Marcel Danesi, Second Language Teaching: A View From the Right Side of the Brain. Springer, 2003)

Pronunciation: pa-ROLE

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Nordquist, Richard. "(linguistics)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/parole-linguistics-term-1691579. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). (linguistics). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/parole-linguistics-term-1691579 Nordquist, Richard. "(linguistics)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/parole-linguistics-term-1691579 (accessed June 7, 2023).