Robert Capa, A Russian Journal, 1948.

There was one woman, with an engaging face and a great laugh, whom Capa picked out for a portrait. She was the village wit. She said, “I am not only a great worker, I am twice widowed, and many men are afraid of me now.” She shook a cucumber in the lens of Capa’s camera.

And Capa said, “Perhaps you’d like to marry me now?”

She rolled back her head and howled with laughter. “Now you, look!” she said. “If God had consulted the cucumber before he made man, there would be less unhappy women in the world.” The whole field rolled with laughter at Capa. (78)

Robert Capa, A Russian Journal, 1948.

This usage of photographs seems to me to demonstrate what Saussure termed “relatively motivated” signs. The presence of the photographs, while not essential to the text, are clearly motivated by it. The way that the photographs are “read” is certainly motivated by the textual component. We impose an order on them which matches the text. They are not arbitrary.

Everything which has to do with language as systems needs to be approached, we are convinced, with a view to examining the limits of arbitrariness. It is an approach which linguists have neglected. But it offers the best possible basis for linguistic studies. For the entire linguistic system is founded upon the irrational principle that the sign is arbitrary. Applied without restriction, this principle would lead to utter chaos. But the mind succeeds in introducing a principle of order and regularity into certain areas in the mass of signs. That is the role of relative motivation. . . .

There exists no language in which nothing at all is motivated. Even to conceive of such a language is impossible by definition. Between the two extremes—minimum of organization and minimum of arbitrariness—all possible varieties are found. Languages always exhibit features of both kinds—intrinsically arbitrary and relatively motivated—but in varying proportions. (Course in General Linguistics 182-183)

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