Langue vs. Parole

What's the Difference?

Langue and parole are two important concepts in linguistics that were introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure. Langue refers to the underlying structure and system of a language, while parole refers to the actual use and manifestation of that language by individuals. Langue is the abstract set of rules and conventions that govern a language, including its grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Parole, on the other hand, is the concrete and individualized expression of language through speech or writing. While langue is shared and understood by a community of speakers, parole is unique to each individual and can vary depending on factors such as social context, personal style, and individual idiosyncrasies. In essence, langue represents the potential for language, while parole represents its actualization in real-life communication.


DefinitionThe abstract system of language, including grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.The actual use of language in speech or writing by individuals.
StructureHas a systematic structure and rules that govern its usage.Varies based on individual preferences, dialects, and contexts.
SharedExists as a shared system among a community of speakers.Varies among individuals and can be unique to each speaker.
StabilityRelatively stable over time and resistant to change.Can change rapidly and evolve based on individual usage and societal influences.
LearnedAcquired through socialization and education.Developed through personal experiences and interactions.
UniversalExists across all languages and communities.Varies across languages and communities.

Further Detail


When studying language, linguists often distinguish between two fundamental concepts: langue and parole. These concepts were introduced by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in his influential work "Course in General Linguistics" published in 1916. Langue refers to the underlying structure and system of a language, while parole refers to the actual instances of language use by individuals. In this article, we will explore the attributes of langue and parole, highlighting their differences and importance in understanding language as a whole.


Langue can be defined as the abstract, systematic, and rule-governed aspect of language. It represents the shared knowledge and conventions that enable individuals within a speech community to understand and communicate with each other. Langue encompasses the grammar, vocabulary, phonetics, and other linguistic elements that form the foundation of a language. It is the collective knowledge that allows speakers to produce and interpret meaningful utterances.

One key attribute of langue is its stability and resistance to change. It exists independently of individual speakers and remains relatively constant over time. While individual speakers may introduce variations or innovations in their parole, the underlying structure of langue remains largely unaffected. This stability allows for effective communication and understanding within a speech community.

Another attribute of langue is its arbitrariness. The relationship between linguistic signs (words, sounds, etc.) and their meanings is arbitrary and conventional. For example, the word "dog" in English does not inherently resemble the animal it represents. This arbitrariness is a fundamental characteristic of langue and is essential for the efficient functioning of a language system.

Furthermore, langue is a social phenomenon. It is shaped and maintained by the collective usage and agreement of a speech community. The rules and conventions of a language are not imposed by any individual but emerge through social interaction and consensus. This social aspect of langue highlights the importance of community and shared understanding in language use.

Lastly, langue is often considered as a synchronic view of language, focusing on its structure at a particular point in time. It provides a snapshot of the language system, disregarding historical changes or individual variations. By studying langue, linguists can uncover the underlying principles and regularities that govern a language, enabling them to analyze its structure and make generalizations.


Parole, on the other hand, refers to the actual instances of language use by individuals. It represents the concrete, individualized, and dynamic aspect of language. Parole encompasses the specific utterances, sentences, and conversations produced by speakers in real-life situations. It is the manifestation of langue in action.

One important attribute of parole is its variability. Each individual has their own unique way of using language, influenced by factors such as their background, education, and personal experiences. This variability is evident in the different accents, dialects, and idiolects found within a speech community. Parole allows for linguistic creativity and adaptation to specific contexts, making language a living and evolving entity.

Another attribute of parole is its contextual nature. Language use is highly dependent on the situational and social context in which it occurs. Speakers adjust their language according to the audience, purpose, and setting of communication. This contextuality adds layers of meaning and nuance to parole, making it a rich and dynamic form of expression.

Furthermore, parole is a diachronic view of language, considering its historical development and changes over time. It acknowledges the individual variations and innovations that occur within a speech community. By studying parole, linguists can gain insights into language evolution, language acquisition, and the impact of external factors on language use.

Lastly, parole is intimately tied to the individual speaker. It reflects their linguistic competence, creativity, and communicative abilities. Parole allows individuals to express their thoughts, emotions, and intentions through language. It is through parole that language becomes a personal and subjective tool for communication.


Langue and parole are two interconnected concepts that provide a comprehensive understanding of language. While langue represents the underlying structure and system of a language, parole represents its actual use by individuals. Both concepts are essential for studying language from different perspectives, whether synchronic or diachronic, collective or individual. By analyzing the attributes of langue and parole, linguists can unravel the complexities of language and gain insights into its structure, evolution, and social significance.

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