Note that, to Saussure, the ``signified
'' is not the object
itself. Rather, it is our concept
of the object. The relationship
between the concept and the object itself
is also an arbitrary
one. For example, we consider objects X, Y, and Z to be tree
s, not because they share some fundamental property
that not-trees do not; but rather because we have defined the concept of a tree to include them and not other things. This example also illustrates another important part of Saussure's theory
: language is inherently differential
in nature. Just as X, Y, and Z are trees because they are not not-trees, the word
s to the concept of trees because it does not refer to not-trees.
Saussure's theory of general linguistics deals with the synchronic aspect of language, which it holds to be more important than the diachronic aspect. Likewise, it focuses on langue (the system of a language) over parole (the set of all speech occurences). General linguistics views language as a self-contained system---much as the New Critics viewed the Work as a self-contained system. Saussure is thus seen as an important precursor to 20th-century literary criticism.