This chapter examines the early life and career of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913). The Saussures belonged to an exclusive circle of the most prominent families in Geneva. Saussure grew up in a patrician atmosphere in which material opulence was combined with an intensity of spiritual life, a high ethical sensibility, and a strong sense of familial tradition. After receiving his degree, Saussure went to Paris, where he assumed the position of maître de conférence (roughly, associate professor) of Gothic and Old High German at the École pratique des hautes études at the Sorbonne. His level of professional involvement in his Paris years can be seen in the pivotal role he played at the Linguistic Society of Paris, in particular as an editor of its series Mémoires de la Société de linguistique. In 1891 he accepted an offer from the University of Geneva to create for him an “extraordinary” chair in Indo-European linguistics. Saussure's move from the glamour and professional accomplishment of his Paris position to a smaller academic world has become a much-debated issue in Saussurean studies.
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