1.) The Sign is Not Arbitrary
Regardless of what you've been taught, the sign in Western tradition traces its lineage to specific concepts. For instance, the aleph is based on the root word Ox, and is traditionally depicted as a upside down triangle with lines extending from the base vertices, or in other words, an upside down A. Likewise, every other letter refers to some readily present concept in the ancient world; Gamma, traces to camel, Delta, traces to door; Mem traces to water etc. It is largely because Saussure is so wrong that I initially took great issue with his work. The problem here is that the historical argument is being left out when such an utterance is emitted. So it is not the sign itself that is arbitrary, it's the system of values that is largely arbitrary. And more to the point, this notion that the sign is arbitrary, itself is arbitrary.
Now, I understand the rationale behind such an opinion, it is a reaction to religious dictates; but if we get caught up in reactionary politics, can we really claim any pretense to science?
Sure why not. Take a look at evolution for instance. The Platonic and religious argument is that man fell from a higher state into this lowly state we find ourselves in now. Evolution inverts this saying we are growing toward higher levels of consciousness. Again the Big Bang states that creation was an act of fusion between matter and anti-matter, while in Genesis, God separates the heavens from the earth. So in the wake of this revelation, is there any science, or is science merely the inversion of religion?
Now, the insight of Saussure is that any sign could have any meaning, and this is true, so long as you understand the historical argument, and that words have a specific trajectory, and certain layers can be peeled back and understood in terms of one another.
Take the numerological value of Mem, which is 40. Mem is the Hebrew word for water, and God poured rain upon the world during the great flood for forty days and forty nights. Then there is Enki, the Sumerian god of the waters, whose number is forty. There is a definite patterning of information, a trajectory, that we are in danger of losing when we consider such signs to be arbitrary.
The same also is true for utterances such as "our system of values is arbitrary." They are passed down generation to generation, and so arbitrary really is not the term to describe this. Chaotics predicts that nothing is arbitrary, everything comes from some source, but it also predicts a non-linear recursive aspect to the linearity of passage from one generation to the next.
So, is the sign arbitrary?
Yes and no. If we are caught in a web where we think that the sign is handed down to us by God, then yes, we should change our minds. If we are not, then look to the historical argument, because it reveals what Saussure's argument conceals: that the sign is literally both arbitrary, and not-arbitrary, and in fact, arbitrariness is a useless and impossible distinction to critique language from.