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1. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Ekaterina Velmezova, Emanuele Fadda Introduction: Reflecting on Ferdinand de Saussure’s intellectual legacy in the modern context of the development of semiotics and history and epistemology of ideas
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2. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
John E. Joseph Saussure’s dichotomies and the shapes of structuralist semiotics
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The Cours de linguistique generale (1916), which became the master text for structuralist linguistics and semiotics, is characterized by a series of dichotomies. Some of them, e.g. langue and parole, signified and signifier, arbitrary and motivated, are very well known, others less so. This paper looks at Saussure’s semiotics in terms of these dichotomies, and considers how later critiques, such as Voloshinov’s (1929), and reformulations, particularly Hjelmslev’s (1935, 1942) and the concept of enunciation which emerged conjointly in the work of Jakobson, Lacan, Dubois, Benveniste and others, were shaped as responses to the Saussurean dichotomies. Also examined in terms of its contrast with Saussure is Bally’s stylistics. The aim is a fuller understanding of the shapes taken by structuralist semiotics, in view of the heritage on which they were based and the broader intellectual climate, including phenomenology and Marxism, in which they developed.
3. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Alain Perusset Posterity of Saussure’s sign in the study of cultural meanings: A dialogue between Barthes and Hjelmslev
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Saussure’s proposals on the sign, formulated more than a century ago in 1916, continue to exert an undisputed authority on linguistics and social sciences. In semiotics, the dyadic model of the sign is continuously used, even in the context of reflections on non-linguistic objects. The tendency in semiotics has been to adopt the Saussurean theory of the sign and enhance it with Hjelmslev’s findings, which has led to Hjelmslev becoming as significant as Saussure in the field of semiotics. In particular, it is to Hjelmslev that we owe the notions of denotation and connotation, which the present article aims at clarifying. Indeed, a misunderstanding still exists regarding the sense of these two concepts, that is to say, some forms of denotation are often – and wrongly – considered as connotations. Hence, this paper deals with Saussure’s legacy; his legacy in Hjelmslev, as well as Barthes, since I shall refer to the propositions formulated by the latter in his Mythologies (1957) to clarify the distinction between denotation and connotation.
4. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
E. Israel Chávez Barreto Opposition, comparison, and associativity: On Luis J. Prieto as a reader of the Cours de linguistique generale
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This paper aims to show the role played by the relations of comparison and associativity, as they are introduced in Saussure’s Cours de linguistique generale, in the theories of Luis J. Prieto. This is done, first, on the basis of a historiographical approach, and second, on the basis of an exegetical approach to Prieto’s works. Thus, the paper first presents and analyses three programmes, corresponding to three courses Prieto gave at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba during the early 1950s. The analysis of these programmes will show the centrality of Saussure’s Cours in Prieto’s linguistic theorizing. After this, an attempt will be made to show the continuity between the theoretical tenets presupposed by the courses’ programmes and the main proposal advanced in Prieto’s article “Classe et concept. Sur la pertinence et sur les rapports saussuriens ‘de comparaison’ et ‘d’echange’”. By constructing this continuity we attempt to show: (1) the constant influence the Cours exerted upon Prieto’s thinking throughout his whole career, and (2) that such influence is manifested in the fact that Prieto did not generalize linguistic principles as such, but rather posited that linguistic principles were instances of more general semiotic ones.
5. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Emanuele Fadda Can linguistics and semiotics conceive man without language?
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Saussure’s refusal to adopt a biological perspective in linguistics and to consider the problem of the origin of language does not imply a struggle against the natural and biological aspects of language. Rather, it derives from the awareness that it is impossible to look at language “from the outside” if one wants (as Saussure considers obligatory for the linguist) to drop into the perspective of the speaking subjects. This tendency to consider the nature of language “from within” has a strong philosophical importance.
6. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Anne-Gaëlle Toutain Sign, function and life: Thinking epistemologically about biosemiotics
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This article focuses on an epistemological analysis, Bachelardian and Saussurean, of the problematics of biosemiotics. This discipline is first characterized in its general features, and in contrast with biolinguistics – a characterization that allows us to see its foundation on the traditional definition of the sign. Then, the Saussurean break with this traditional definition is explained, and with it the theorization which is constitutive of the Saussurean concept of language (la langue), explaining the given: the idioms. Biosemiotics appears in this “recurrent light” as a scientific ideology in the sense of Georges Canguilhem. It is a counterpart of structuralism, another scientific ideology, which emphasized the notion of structure, whereas this time it is the sound/sense relationship that is at the heart of the elaboration. Its commonality of problematics with and its singularity in relation to biolinguistics appear at the same time: if biolinguistics and biosemiotics both ignore the heterogeneity and the discontinuity constitutive of language, the reductionism of biosemiotics takes the form of a dissolution instead of the organicism underlying biolinguistics.
7. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Daria Zalesskaya Language as an “independent unit”: Ferdinand de Saussure vs. Paul Boyer
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Didactics and semiotics are two fields that have been interconnected for a long time. Russian language teaching in France in the 20th century, especially in its first half, had several interesting didactic features closely related to the understanding of Ferdinand de Saussure’s theoretical conceptions. Through the works of influential Slavist professor Paul Boyer (1864–1949), some of Ferdinand de Saussure’s ideas became reflected in French didactics in a particular way, providing the basis for a new method of teaching Russian as a foreign language. The article offers an analysis of the textbook Manuel pour l’etude de la langue russe by Boyer and Nicolas Speransky, as well as of the teaching method “language-in-itself ”, with the objective to identify the references to the Course in General Linguistics and to consider their reflection in didactics.
8. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Patrick Sériot Is language a system of signs? Lenin, Saussure and the theory of hieroglyphics
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This paper strives to pursue two goals at the same time: how can one get to know in depth the intellectual life of the USSR in the 1930s–1950s; and, what can the virulent anti-Saussurean criticism in Russia at that time tell us about the specificity of the Marxist-Leninist theory of signs? We propose the following angle of attack: the recurring theme of this criticism, namely that Saussure’s Cours presents a “theory of hieroglyphics”, therefore a type of “bourgeois idealist” theory that Lenin assailed in his 1909 book Materialism and Empiriocriticism about Ernst Mach. Yet thinking about hieroglyphics is based on much older controversies, dating back to the 17th century and concerning the deciphering of Egyptian writing. The issue which arises here is semiotic in nature: it is the scalar opposition between transparency and opacity of the sign that is at stake. Does the sign hide or reveal? The Soviet discourse on language and signs in the 1930s–1950s seems to be based on an interrogation of the sign/referent, language/thought, form/content relationship. A part of the history of semiotics can thus be discovered from the critique of the “hieroglyphic theory”, a little-known episode in a debate on the interpretation of Saussurism.
9. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Ekaterina Velmezova Ferdinand de Saussure. USSR. 1950…
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During the linguistic discussion organized in the Soviet newspaper Pravda in 1950, Ferdinand de Saussure was mentioned only a few times, but the corresponding references are important from the point of view of both the opinions about Saussure that were prevalent in Soviet linguistics before the discussion, and in light of its evolution afterwards. In 1950, both a supporter and an opponent of Marrist linguistics, Ivan Meschaninov and Arnold Chikobava respectively, unconditionally agreed on at least one thing: namely, that the theories of Saussure were, from their point(s) of view, unacceptable for “progressive” Soviet linguistics. This criticism of Saussure shows the significant shift made by Soviet humanities in the middle of the last century over the course of just a few years: in the late 1950s, it was the “revision” of the main theses of the criticism of Saussure that made possible the (relative) triumph of structuralism, which finally took place in the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
10. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Kalevi Kull The term ‘Biosemiotik’ in the 19th century
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Tracing the emergence of biosemiotics, attention can be drawn to the very early usage of the term ‘biosemiotics’ (Biosemiotik) in the writings of Austrian chemist Vincenz Kletzinsky (1826–1882) that dates back to the 1850s. In the same decade, Kletzinsky also proved to be among the first to use the terms ‘biochemistry’ and ‘biophysics’.
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11. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Massimo Leone Introduction: Studying the ‘facesphere’
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12. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Ugo Volli The transcendence of the face: A semiotic-linguistic path
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This paper starts with an examination of the terms use d to designate the face in different languages, in particular in Italian, comparing these with the definitions provided by some authoritative dictionaries as well as with their etymology. This exploration yields some remarkable results: firstly, it appears that the face is indeed a term that has a material meaning, but at the same time it is a social object; secondly, the importance of the communicative function emerges, which makes the face similar to the mask and in some ways to the arbitrariness of language. All this suggests that the philosophical status of the face is that of ‘transcendence’ which is a condition of that state of freedom that we attribute to ourselves and that can be defined as ‘human exception’.
13. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Simona Stano The face of health in the West and the East: A semio-cultural analysis
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Magazines, leaflets, weblogs, and a variety of other media incessantly spread messages advising us on how to achieve or maintain our health or well-being. In such messages, the iconic representation of the face is predominant, and reveals an interesting phenomenon: the “face of health” seems to be unattainable as such, and is generally represented in a differential way, that is to say, by making reference to its opposite – the “face of illness”, or at least of malaise. In fact, the face is crucial in the medical domain: since ancient times, face observation has played an essential role in diagnostic practices, both in Western medicine (which resorts to the concept of facies, intended as the distinctive facial expression or appearance associated with a specific medical condition, for the description of pathological states) and Eastern preventive and healing techniques (within which the so-called Mian Xiang, or ‘face reading’, is fundamental, and connects the medical sphere with other aspects such as personality, talents, and dispositions). Drawing on the semiotic analysis of relevant case studies extending from classical iconography to present-day digital mediascapes, this paper investigates the representation of the face of health (and illness) across time and space, specifically focusing on the analogies and differences between the Western and the Eastern semiosphere. To this purpose, it relies on both literature concerning the representation and understanding of the face and studies on medical sign systems and discourses.
14. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Gabriele Marino Cultures of the (masked) face
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What we generally regard as ‘the face’ should be semiotically understood not as something given and monolithic, but rather stratified – it is at least threefold: biological (face), physiognomic (expression), perceivable (visage) – and relational as it has to be put within a narrative in order to make sense. The face lies at the centre of a whole semiotic system, the form of life, revolving around the issue of identity (which the face – the visage, to be precise – embodies and still does not resolve). What we may call ‘the natural face’ is not, as common sense would suggest, the precondition of the ‘culturalized’ one (featured with modifications ranging from make-up and proper masks to surgery), but rather just one of the possible semiotic masks a person may choose to wear. At the same time, the mask does not have to be reduced to a deceptive device only (nor to be meant merely as a material object), being in fact at the centre of a more complex axiology. The classic veridictory square articulating the opposition between Being and Seeming may provide a suitable model for the semiotic square of ‘visageness’, so that we would have: Face, Disguise (the place of the mask proper), Fake, Anonymity. Based on these theoretical premises, the paper finally addresses popular music and outlines a provisional map of the pragmatics of the mask (subtractive vs. additive, ritualistic vs. continuous, material vs. virtual, mask as face vs. face as mask), as a suggestion for further studies.
15. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Remo Gramigna, Cristina Voto Notes on the semiotics of face recognition
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Perceiving and recognizing others via their faces is of pivotal importance. The ability to perceive others in the environment – to discern between friends and foes, selves and others – as well as to detect and seek to predict their possible moves, plans, and intentions, is a set of skills that has proved to be essential in the evolutionary history of humankind. The aim of this study is to explore the subject of face recognition as a semiotic phenomenon. The scope of this inquiry is limited to face perception by the human species. The human face is analysed on the threshold between biological processes and cultural processes. We argue that the recognition of likenesses has a socio-cultural dimension that should not be overlooked. By drawing on Georg Lichtenberg’s remarks on physiognomy, we discuss the critique of the semiotic bias, the association of ideas, and the mechanism of typification involved in face recognition. Face typification is discussed against the background of face recognition and face identification. We take them as three gradients of meaning that map out a network of relationships concerning different cognitive operations that are at stake when dealing with the recognition of faces.
16. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Devon Schiller The face and the faceness: Iconicity in the early faciasemiotics of Paul Ekman, 1957–1978
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Paul Ekman is an American psychologist who pioneered the study of facial behaviour. Bringing together disciplinary history, life study, and history of science, this paper focuses on Ekman’s early research during the twenty-year period between 1957 and 1978. I explicate the historical development of Ekman’s semiotic model of facial behaviour, tracing the thread of iconicity through his life and works: from the iconic coding of rapid signs; through the eventual turn from classifying modes of iconic signification using gestalt categories to classifying modes of producing iconic sign-functions using minimal units; to the role and importance of iconicity for the study of the facial expression of emotion, both in terms of the similarities between iconic and analogue signs as well as the differences between facial coding and linguistic signification. In this intellectual genealogy, I argue not only that Ekman relied extensively upon conceptualizations and terminologies from semiotic thought for the creation of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), but also that the question of iconicity is the pivotal problem across the many discoveries and innovations in what I term ‘Ekmanian faciasemiotics’.
17. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Emanuela Ferragamo Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall and the post-nuclear culture of the face
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The intertwining of landscape and face belongs to human spatial epistemology: as suggested by Matteo Meschiari, primitive humans used to orientate themselves in landscape through recognition of facial patterns. By reflecting upon Marlen Haushofer’s novel The Wall (Die Wand), the article aims to question the semantic of the “face of the landscape” in the wake of an imagined nuclear apocalypse that leaves behind a cat, a cow, a dog, a woman and a wall. The wall transcends the boundaries between human and other-than-human: in terms of Roberto Marchesini, it creates a somato-landscape – a hybridization of inner and outer landscapes typical of post-human awareness. Finally, such a landscape culminates in the dismissal of the pre-apocalyptic culture of the face: faces no longer function as a means of recognition.
18. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Bruno Surace Semiotics of the pornographic face: From traditional porno to Beautiful Agony
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Today’s pornography constitutes a semiotic laboratory capable of meticulously describing some characteristics of the cultures from which it comes and for which it is intended. In it, the role of the face is preeminent and assumes relevance both from a diegetic and a formal point of view. A face which makes itself a sign and is articulated in a dialectic between the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic axis, finding expression as an aspectual device, establishing a peculiar semiotic procedure of absentia in praesentia, and highlighting an eminently enunciative dimension of the textual genre. Thus a facial semiotics of pornography becomes to all effects a cultural semiotics, which through the exploration of a transversal genre – both in its mainstream and more niche actualizations – produces significant results in defining how cultures of the face, including extrapornographic ones, delineate themselves. The aim of this article is to verify this peculiar facial semiotics through a case history that stretches from traditional to contemporary pornography, also analysing the “facial pornography” website beautifulagony.com and the visual works of some contemporary artists.
19. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Antonio Santangelo Culturally significant symbolic faces: For a sociosemiotics of faces in films
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Every now and then when watching a movie, we come across faces in which we recognize a significant value, because they represent some important cultural models we use to assign meaning to our experience of the world. By way of example, I will discuss the faces of the protagonists of two recent films, Abdellatif Kechiche’s La vie d’Adele. Chapitres 1 & 2 (2013; English title Blue Is the Warmest Colour) and Leonor Serraille’s Jeune femme (2017), comparing them with the faces of the protagonists of some older movies, such as Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson’s Shrek (2001) and James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). I will argue that the way in which the faces are portrayed is similar to the narrative structure of the stories of the characters they belong to, and that the signs and narrative structures used to construct the discourses about the world in those films are at the same time similar to those of two important cultural models of what it means to be young men and women in our times. As these cultural models are different, yet interconnected, I will argue that the most meaningful faces in cinema change due to the transformation of the cultural models they derive from and that a sociosemiotic method based on a structuralist vision of culture can help identify the most culturally significant symbolic faces on screen, and elsewhere.
20. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 49 > Issue: 3/4
Silvia Barbotto Art, face and breathscape: From air to cultural texts
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We consider breath as a vast prospect that includes actions and traces of them, that builds images and texts, that involves the human being and the extra-human context; we call this great scenery ‘breathscape’. We then study how breathscape interacts with the human apparatus of the face, both giving rise to signs, but also giving rise to a liminal zone of extremely intriguing interpretative processes on a mereological scale. How and where do the territory of breath and the body interact? Which processes of signification do they give rise to? And which signs are created in their phenomenal and semantic encounter? Art is certainly the most appropriate language for studying this process, as well as for letting opacities emerge and exploring outstanding contrasts. There are various concepts of ‘breathscape’ that, grounded in different cultures, are immediately associated with ancient and contemporary philosophies. As a reverberation from a semiotic interaction and through the discretization and identification of semantic fields relevant to the concerned scenario, and introducing textuality, a phenomenon seen as a crystallization of the transition between outer text (the text of reality) and text (subject/object), we consider those visual texts which are crossed by a common faculty that is both descriptive and inventive: by approaching some inferential and cultural regimes and analysing their specific enunciative practices, we then contribute to their renovation. The texts related to the practices as part of the narratives intrinsic to cultural semiospheres underline the insatiable vastness of epistemological content to be dealt with, and the functional reductionism of the corpus is only a first approach to the field that is intended to shed light on the general panorama and to stimulate subsequent debate and insights.