| Definition -
An approach to linguistics derived from Saussure's work, especially his 1916 text Course in General Linguistics.
Prior to Saussure, linguists had focused on studying the historical evolution of languages, Saussure stressed analyzing existing languages by collecting a set of utterances and then breaking down this data into its various parts, e.g. phonemes, morphemes, and sentence types.
1. Saussure's focus reflected the emphasis on classification and analysis that dominated 19th-century science.
2. Two generations later, Chomsky shifted the focus to postulating how language mechanisms functioned in the brain. He believed that structural linguistics was only useful for studying phonology and morphology, which have a finite number of units that can be collected and analyzed. However, Chomsky felt that Saussure's methodology was not an effective way to analyze syntax, because syntax was capable of generating an infinite (and un-analyzable) collection of sentences. Instead, Chomsky believed that the linguist's job was to discover the underlying set of rules that the brain uses to generate all posssible sentences.
In a nutshell, if language is a black box, Saussure wanted to study what came out of the black box, whereas Chomsky wants to try to figure out what is inside the black box by guessing how it works.