A term used in linguistics referring to any approach to the analysis of language that pays explicit attention to the way in which linguistic features can be described in terms of structures and systems (structural or structuralist linguistics). In the general Saussurean sense, structuralist ideas enter into every school of linguistics. Structuralism does, however, have a more restricted definition, referring to the Bloomfieldian emphasis on the processes of segmenting and classifying the physical features of utterance (i.e. on what Noam Chomsky later called surface structures), with little reference to the abstract underlying structures (Chomsky’s deep structures) of language or their meaning.
The contribution of this notion in linguistics is apparent in the more general concept of structuralism. Here, any human institution or behaviour (e.g. dancing, courtship, religion) is considered analysable in terms of an underlying network of relationships, and the structures demonstrated referrable to basic modes of thought. The crucial point is that the elements which constitute a network have no validity apart from the relations (of equivalence, contrast, etc.) which hold between them, and it is this network of relations which constitutes the structures of the system.