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Language as an Argumentative System

Language is naturally possessed. It belongs to the individual and the society, which means that it belongs to the individual and is also an adopted social product that allows the exercise of the language faculty. It is subservient to natural instinct, it is acquired, conventional and external to one. Speech, on the other hand, is an individual act of will and intelligence. It is the ability to articulate words. It happens through the social convention that is the language and for a conversation to be generated there must be at least two individuals generating the circuit of the word. But speech is not isolated from society, which is why it is important to know how this system works. Understanding this is of the utmost importance in order to later be able to make correct use of it both in everyday life and for its use in argumentative matters. This makes it possible to cover the theory of argumentation and the implication of the audience.

Figure 1: The Orator. Magnus Zeller. 1920.

The French linguist Ferdinand De Saussure argued that it is not necessary to hear, speak or see to communicate and that physical characteristics are secondary. What he is interested in is the psychic and the social, and that is where argumentation plays a great role. What the argument seeks is to be able to provide an effective discourse that in turn serves as a persuasive element. This is why it is so important to understand language as a social apparatus. The language then is divided into two issues that, although they are contrary, are also complementary; mutability and immutability.

Language is said to be immutable because an individual cannot choose, for example, the name of a color. The system that dictates the language is immovable because there is no reason to modify the relationship of the meaning of the word. But it is also mutable because it is part of a social system. That is the changes that society makes with the emergence of new words, of new forms of communication. An example would be to include they/them when talking about a non-binary person. In short, time alters things and language is related to the fields of activity of humans, which change over time, and of course, language will too (Saussure, F, 1945, p. 98). Language is also said to be synchronous because it is static. It is necessary to know how the language works at the present moment in which you want to understand it. The language is thought at a given moment to know how it works at that moment, that is synchrony.

What is discovered when studying language is that in reality, to understand a word, one has to understand what its relationship with the system is doing at a given moment, it is not possible to only know the value that a word has without it being used. A certain word does not mean something only because of its meaning, but also because of its value within the system. It is understood in relation to other elements, it can be in an oppositional and negative way. An example is when someone who plays chess notices that a piece is missing to play. They are all there except the queen. This is where the missing piece can be replaced with a button, a cork, or anything else, and it is notorious that it replaces that piece because all the others are there, because it opposes the rest. It is recognized for an oppositional and negative reason. Therein lies the importance of a system, because if one checks a dictionary of an unknown language, the meaning of the world would still be unknown if one does not know to which system it belongs and its function in a society (Saussure, F, 1945: 142).

Figure 2: The Speaker. Martin Ley Ussing. 2008.

Taking language as a starting point, it is also interesting to think about it in relation to argumentation. In the book The Limits of Argumentation, Chaim Perelman and Lucile Olbrechts-Tyteca conceived the nature of the language as essentially persuasive. The argument is a discursive type in which you want to convince an audience, where there is an issue to discuss. This audience is the one who this discourse is addressing to. The genres where it predominates can be an essay, an academic monograph, an exam, among other things. The argument is opposed to the demonstration, which proposes to establish indisputable truths, build formal systems where these truths are indisputable. It seeks to influence an audience to achieve adherence to something. And, to achieve it, social and psychic conditions must be met for this intellectual contact to take place. The conditions are an intellectual community and a debate that must be established, that’s why the audience is decided based on those whom the speaker seeks to influence, it is a construction of the speaker. The speaker presents different arguments, which have to do with the enunciator, and seeks to persuade him. Persuading would be that argumentation that seeks to achieve the adherence of the audience in a more emotional, subjective, sentimental way, as proposed by Saussure. For there to be argumentation, a community of people must be produced (Perelman, C. and Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. 1966, p. 47).

Lastly, it is also important, because this argumentative language is part of a social system, to understand the role that affects play in argumentation. Christian Plantin, in his book Argumentation, explains that the domain of pure argumentation tries to keep the affects apart, as if it were not good that it is within the argumentation because if it is rational it must do without emotions. Contemporary studies show that emotions and reasons are not so easy to separate. The existence of a Pathos and an Ethos is then proposed. Pathos is non-propositional tests, passions and feelings. Ethos, on the other hand, is more about the tone of the speech, the way of presenting, and showing confidence in the speaker where adherence to the speaker's position is generated. Pathos is the emotions demonstrated discursively, the emotional or passionate content of a speech. There is a necessary base that is built to produce adherence to the position that is sustained through argumentation. Affects, then, are impossible to ignore if argumentation is studied (Plantin, C. 1996, p. 90).

Figure 3: Der Rechner. Arthur Segal. 1912.

Then it could be said that for language to function as a way of speaking and arguing, it is impossible to use it outside of its system and outside of emotions. The affects in the field of pure argumentation are historically characterized by the rejection of the effects and the commitment of the person in his speech. This argumentative discourse was supposed to be impassive and impersonal, but now it is shown that the relationships between reason and emotion are more complex. In any case, it is not only the emotional issue that must be taken into account for the understanding between speaker and audience, but also the intellectual contact that implies that there must be certain preconditions that allow the speaker and the listener to understand each other. This is possible only if there is a common language that allows communication, which is why good use of the language is important. Listening to someone is being willed to admit their point of view eventually, one must be part of the same environment, treat each other, and maintain social relationships to facilitate the realization of the conditions prior to intellectual contact. For the argument to develop, it is necessary that the receiver has some interest and pays attention, and that this initial contact is maintained throughout the development of the argument. With these core themes in mind, one can begin to understand the use of language, argumentation, and how to use it effectively.

Bibliographical References

Perelman, C. & Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1966). The Limits of Argumentation. Retrieved from:

Plantin, C. (1996). Argumentation. Retrieved from:

Saussure, F. (1945). Linguistic General Course. Buenos Aires. Editorial Losada.

Visual Sources

Figure 1: Zeller, M. (1920). The Orator [Painting]. Retrieved from:

Figure 2: Ley Ussing, M. (2008). The Speaker. [Painting]. Retrieved from:

Figure 3: Segal, A. (1912). Der Rechner. [Painting]. Retrieved from:


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Antonella Cosentino

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