I have a hard time understanding the concept of "negative meaning" in linguistic Structuralism (Saussure). Their proposition is that signs don't have meaning by themselfes but only within the structure they reside in. The difference between the signs create meaning.
My first issue with this is: What is the difference between two signs? I understand that each sign is made up of a signifier and a signified. Now I can see how each of those have a certain distance to its neighbours, e.g. the signifier "and" is close to "ant", whereas the signified "and" is close to the signified "or". But whats the distance between the signs "and" and "ant" (signifier + signified)? Are they closely related because they only differ in one letter, or are they far apart because an insect has nothing to do with a logical conjunction?
My second issue: Even taken separately, I still don't see how my knowledge of the signifier and the signified is only given negatively. Sure I can say that I know 2+2 == 4 because I know 2+2 =/= 5 and 2+2 =/= 3, however, I also know it positively. How is that different in the world of language? The moment I learn that in Japanese "Arigatō" means "Thanks", I know it positively, since I'm not aware of any other Japanese words - don't I?
The closest I've come to understanding this concept (at least I think) is the fact that an term/idea can only exist in contrast to all others. If it wouldn't be different to all others, it would be one of those things and thus non-existent. Best examples would be all dichotomies like Good/Evil, On/Off, Big/Small