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1. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Jamin Pelkey, Sophia Melanson, Richard Rosenbaum Introduction: Cognitive Semiotics
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thematic issue articles
2. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Göran Sonesson The Psammetichus Syndrome and Beyond: Five Experimental Approaches to Meaning-Making
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Thanks to Bruno Galantucci, “experimental semiotics” is usually nowadays taken to mean the study of “novel forms of communication which people develop when they cannot use pre-established communication systems”. In spite of Galantucci’s claim to have picked the label because it was free, it has actually been used in different ways at least twice before: by Colin Ware, who takes it to be involved with “the elucidation of symbols that gain their meaning by being structured to take advantage of the human sensory apparatus”, as opposed to conventional meaning-making, and by Kashima and Haslam, who apply it to complex social situations. The label could also conveniently be used to describe the kind of experiment that we have realized at Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, which are classical psychological experiments which have been enriched with a focus on the particular semiotic resources involved, while also applying phenomenological analysis to both the experimental situation and its outcome. These are all reductive uses of the terms “experimental” and “semiotics”. In fact, although Galantucci himself refers to Psammetichus’s famous experiment as being roughly analogous to his understanding of experimental semiotics, there are important differences, the Psammetichus experiment, in spite of its intentions, being more unbiased, if it could really be accomplished. Pursuing the principle that I have called the dialects of phenomenology and experiment, and what Jordan Zlatev has termed the conceptual-empirical loop, I will suggest, in the present paper, that these different experimental approaches can be related to different varieties of semiosis, thus helping us to spell out the full task of the discipline termed cognitive semiotics. This, in turn, will help us determine the full scope of cognitive semiotics, while also highlighting the importance of the semiotic part, that is, the attention to meaning, revealed by phenomenology.
3. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone The Silence of Movement: A Beginning Empirical-Phenomenological Exposition of the Powers of a Corporeal Semiotics
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The kinetic silence of movement has formidable powers. Observations of a film critic, poet, professor of political history, and medical doctor attest to the fact that that silence is replete with meanings. Those meanings in turn testify to a movement-anchored corporeal semiotics that resounds not merely functionally but experientially in animate forms of life. It does so consistently and directly in kinesthesia, the ever-present sense modality by which we experience the qualitative dynamics of movement and synergies of meaningful movement. Phylogenetic and ontogenetic perspectives attest to these dynamics and synergies. So also does Aristotle’s description of movement as a sensu communis. Because a movement-anchored corporeal semiotics discovers and describes what is existentially meaningful in the lives of animate organisms, such a semiotics is the foundation of a cognitive semiotics. It is so in a number of everyday ways, most notably in terms of thinking in movement and of cognition itself.
4. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Jennifer Hinnell The Verbal-Kinesic Enactment of Contrast in North American English
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In this paper, I explore the linguistic and kinesic expression of contrast—the pitting of one position, object, or idea, against another. The archetype utterance for the embodied expression of contrast in English is the bipartite construction On the one hand . . . . On the other hand . . . . in which hand gestures are often performed sequentially along the sagittal axis (first on one side and then on the other side of the body) to depict the two options. However, English speakers have a variety of other linguistic means available to them for expressing contrast. Using data from naturally occurring discourse, I describe a range of linguistic resources that mark contrast and examine the semiotic relationships at play in the dynamic, multimodal signs (i.e. speech / gesture constructions) that accompany them. I demonstrate that, far from being ad hoc, when analyzed across the propositional, cognitive, and discursive domains, the way in which contrast is marked in the body can be viewed on a continuum of highly imageable to more schematically iconic kinesic movements. By placing the primary focus on the multimodal sign, this paper makes clear how speakers of North American English build semiotic environments around the construal of contrast.
5. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Martin Švantner Inferring Ears: Cognitive Semiotics and Musical Anthroposemiosis
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This paper draws attention to two important and fruitful anecdotes from history useful for the development of a cognitive semiotic approach to music. The first is from Peirce’s writings, describing a complete structural change of understanding, perception and listening to music. Peirce describes the invention of a specific cognitive pidgin and the emergence of new social, embodied and cerebral habits. This emergence is shown in the example of Peirce’s friend who allegedly lost his sense of hearing but still enjoys music—no thanks to his ears. The second case study considers the “inferring ear” of Jimi Hendrix and his cooperation with Miles Davis, who taught Hendrix how to codify what he heard. Hence these anecdotes open pathways into the problem of the nature of musical perception, useful for exploring the codification and learning of music in particular. The nature of these abilities may be seen as intersubjective mimetics that are mediated through suprasubjective, triadic, embodied relations (signs). The article analyzes these topics from a point of view of a Peircean framework (with detours into the work of T. Deacon, V. Colapietro and G. Deleuze), aming to show the interconnections between such perspectives and some examples of contemporary neuroscientific research in this field.
6. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Duygu Uygun Tunç Transformative Communication as Semiotic Scaffolding of Cognitive Development
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The paper examines the role of earliest communicative interactions in the development of social-cognitive functions through a communication-theoretical interpretation of Hoffmeyer’s notion “semiotic scaffolding”. Drawing on Bateson’s notion of metacommunication and Vygotskian perspectives on cognitive-semiotic development, it argues that the primary semiotic achievement of human evolution and development is the differentiation of meaning into inter-referential layers that are communicatively established, which in turn provides an ecological foundation for multilevel and multimodal semiosis. Ontogenetically regarded, differentiation of levels of communication is argued to be an intersubjectively achieved process of semiotic scaffolding. Semiotic scaffolds are conceived as hierarchically organized, temporary or enduring semiotic controls on action, which can be formed in phylogeny or ontogeny. The timescale in which semiotic scaffolds change narrows down from phylogenic history to lived time to the extent that development is mediated by culture. The increasing plasticity of semiotic scaffolds brings about a novel, transformative mode of communication that is partly efficacious on phylogenetic scaffolding and responsible for the emergence of higher order scaffolds within ontogenetic time. Transformative communication is the process whereby higher-order semiotic scaffolds of (inter)action are intersubjectively formed by effectuating a top-down social modification on the psycho-somatic level of scaffolding. Its phylogenetically prior and more pervasive correlative, coordinative communication, is the mode in which stably scaffolded semiotic activities of individuals are coordinated. This argument is concretized through examining some landmark cognitive-semiotic activities such as imitation, cooperative role-taking and symbolic play, interpreted as communicative interactions with particular focus on their role in layering sign-processes. Through these interactions the child develops skills for differential attention to sign-object-interpretant and coordination of alternative interpretants.
7. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Donna E. West Index as Scaffold to the Subjunctivity of Children’s Performatives
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This article provides a new characterization of gestural performatives, providing a semiotic analysis of their dialogic meaning—that performatives function as action signs, specifically indexes. Consonant with Peirce’s Ten-Fold Division of Signs, it proposes that the meanings which underlie performative actions supersede the interpretants of the Dicisign and therefore become the subjects of propositions. The dialogic nature of action signs is only beginning to be explored systematically; as such, this fresh inquiry argues that this process develops in ontogeny between two semiotic actors, particularly in view of imperative and subjunctive meanings or effects housed within the Energetic Interpretants of signs whose representamen depict movement.
8. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Richard Rosenbaum Toward a Renewed Theory of the Narreme
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From Propp’s functions to Levi-Strauss’s mythemes, from Greimas’s actants to Barthes’s narrative units, and beyond, numerous scholars of linguistics, comparative mythology, and narratology have proposed frameworks for identifying and systematizing the fundamental particles of narrative and describing how they interact. The term “narreme” was suggested by Eugèn Dorfman and has caught on, as the proposed basic unit of narrative structure, analogous to the “phoneme” in phonology; however, although the term has been deployed by many contemporary scholars (primarily within the context of ludology (or “game studies”), this has not yet led to definitions or descriptions of the narreme and its associated architecture that have been broadly accepted, nor has it produced any robust descriptive or generative model that has come into wide use. None of the proposed formulations provide a sufficient degree of precision or granularity, and none operate at a suitable level of abstraction to make generative research on the subject possible. Building on the insights of the aforementioned classic scholars in the fields of structuralist semiotics and cognitive studies, as well as contemporaries such as David Herman, Bruno Latour, Umberto Eco, and others, I propose a preliminary model of the narreme, its available values, permissible combinations, and codified conventional patterns within the construction of the narrative objects that the human mind instinctively recognizes as a “story”. My intent is to contribute to an atomic theory of narrativity that can be further developed and deployed as an apparatus for the analysis and creation of works of narrative art, in addition to possible uses in education and narrative-based therapies.
9. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Lillian A. Black, Katherine Tu, Cliff O’Reilly, Yetian Wang, Paulo Pacheco An Ontological Approach to Meaning Making through PATH and Gestalt Foregrounding in Climax
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Climax is a compound rhetorical figure, consisting of the trope, Crementum, and the scheme, Gradatio (itself a series of Anadiploses), a combination that results in compelling semiotic effects. The component figures impact the conveyed meaning independently and collectively, which we chart by way of the PATH image schema and the Gestalt Figure-Ground relation. These layers of meaning function in a similar fashion to the dual figure visual phenomenon examined by Koffka and Rubin. Key elements of our project include knowledge representation of Climax and component figures, a suite of ontologies that map the cognitive features supporting these complex structures and a base model of surface entities augmented with the related cognitive functions. Our ontologies are developed in the Web Ontology Language (OWL), validated for consistency and published online.
critical-reflexive commentary
10. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Massimo Leone On Insignificance
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The article proposes a typology of meaninglessness based on the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce: meaningless as indecipherable; as incomprehensible; and as uncanny. Each type is exemplified with reference to anecdotic semiotic experience gained while riding Japanese buses. Meaninglessness, however, is not insignificance. Insignificance is a much more disquieting anthropological condition, which the article describes with reference to two symmetrical processes: on the one hand, the euphoric passage from significance to insignificance, a passage meant as the “birth of new meaning”; on the other hand, the dysphoric passage from significance to insignificance, a passage which coincides with the alienation of human existence. Through several examples take from present-day societies, the article advocates for an active role of semiotics in warning human communities against the “emergence of insignificance” and its potential of violence and exploitation.
11. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
About the Authors
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12. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Jamin Pelkey, Michael Pereira Introduction: Applied Brand Semiotics
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thematic issue articles
13. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Kristian Bankov Legendary Brands and Economic Value: A Semiotic Approach
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In this paper I compare and synthesize three separate discourses on marketing communication and propose a model for symbolic added value, a quality that characterizes the most memorable brands. Kevin Lane Keller (Strategic Brand Management, 2013) exhaustively outlines the pragmatic steps for building, managing and measuring strong brands, but his approach overlooks the basic distinction between ordinary product brands and Legendary Brands. Laurence Vincent’s book (Legendary Brands, 2002) is dedicated to precisely this distinction, and the author takes an interdisciplinary (but mainly anthropological) approach to proposing a model for a “brand mythology system”. Although the model can be used for pragmatic purposes, its main power is to explain the success of existing Legendary Brands. But while Vincent’s model treats many topics of semiotic interest, semiotic theory and methodology are presented only in a distorted fashion. Therefore, I propose that Jean-Marie Floch’s (Semiotics, Marketing and Communication, 2001) research on the types of valorization advertising confers upon brands can be used to fill critical gaps in the other two approaches and complete my own theory. By analyzing case studies of several successful Bulgarian brands in an autoethnographic mode, I will demonstrate that strategic brand management can be enriched through reference to semiotic and anthropologic models, provided they are translated into its vocabulary and discourse and that the resulting practical guidance can be applied to mid-sized, small, and very small companies, and not just to giant companies on the scale of Apple and Harley Davidson.
14. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Maciej Biedziński Possibilities of Materiality: Application of a Peircean Model of the Sign for Building New Brands
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In contemporary marketing practice, semiotics is often considered to be a useful set of tools employed only in certain moments of the brand-building process. One of the reasons for this is that models rooted in dyadic understanding of a sign serve to narrow the role of applied semioticians to that of the expert, supporting a linear transfer of meaning from culture to products and services. This article proposes a framework that regards a semiotician, rather, as a key figure—a figure that I refer to as “the brand facilitator”—in the process of creating a new brand. The approach I present is based on the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce and his idea of the sign as a cooperation between three subjects—the object, the representamen and the interpretant—with the object, namely the Dynamical Object, being the starting point for a non-linear, rhizomatic process of brand-becoming or the creation of a new brand. The article offers a detailed explanation of steps needed to complete each of the three main stages of the inquiry, including a material research phase, a cultural research phase and a phase of expressive anchoring. The theoretical framework is supported by a case study, thoroughly describing a process of creating a brand of vegetable pastes introduced in 2017 on the Polish market.
15. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Steven Skaggs Visual Identity: Systems and Semiotics
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This essay seeks to sketch the fundamental interactive forces at play in a brand in the formation of an identity system that signifies a particular hosting entity. Two kinds of iconicity are at play in the initial informed exposure to a visual identity system: metaphorical iconicity employs an analogous symbol as substitute for the host’s identification, while systemic iconicity builds the habituated exposure of the elements of the identity system. This article focuses on the dynamics in play in building systemic iconicity. Systemic iconicity can be analyzed using system and set theory by considering the system as a fuzzy set in which each of the graphic elements (logo, typography and so on) are treated as members. I postulate nine interdependent interactions that occur in systemic iconicity and provide shorthand formulae for describing them. These nine postulates indicate that visual identity systems must continually negotiate two opposing forces: pressures that pull them to converge toward a single, simple, unchanging visual element; or pressures that push them to diverge toward multiple changing visual elements. The article concludes by raising three issues which have the potential to expand the development of a neo-Peircean semiotics.
16. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Mariane Cara The Semiotic Layers of Instagram: Visual Tropes and Brand Meaning
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In an era of mobility and ubiquity, Instagram is a relevant communicative landscape for brands and products, allowing for the creation of a specific mood for campaigns and ads in general, merging photos, videos, themes, captions, hashtags and stories with a multilayered web of meanings. This paper outlines how the visual syntax of Instagram and its meaning-making processes goes beyond uniformity by affording the possibility to invest in creative formats, while contemplating visual tropes such as metaforms, visual metonymies and ironic images coming from the participatory culture. It will also present an understanding of the democratic dimensions of amateur photography and a discussion of two academic concepts related to Instagram: Instagrammatics and Instagrammism. Being that applied semiotics involves the study and analysis of visual and verbal languages that express cultural contents, the aim of this essay is to contribute to the understanding of polysemic manifestations, associating its signifiers with the rhetorical and aesthetic potential of visual tropes, ultimately demonstrating overlapping codes that could be relevant for brand management.
17. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Sónia Marques Life’s a Circus: A Case Study of the Branding of Camper Shoes
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Branding relies on coherence, which is in turn based on conceptual agreement. The various elements that make up a brand must work together, as must the brand respond satisfactorily to the expectations of its addressees. This article examines the case of Camper shoes, considering it a positive example of how a brand, when structured by metaphorical mappings within an adequate source domain, meets the expectations of its addressees and ensures the desired coherence in brand communication. Camper’s communication strategy is influenced by two conceptual metaphors—LIFE IS PLAY and THE WORLD IS A STAGE—mapped within one of the dominant metaphors in this market segment: CLOTHING IS SPORTS. Though many clothing brands are guided by the super-ordinate metaphor of sports, the sub-domains vary: tennis in the case of Lacoste, sailing for Gant, aerobics for Uniqlo, chess for G Star Raw and horse riding for Barbour. Camper is related to circus acrobats and performing clowns. Hence, the conceptual domain of CIRCUS is systematically mapped onto that of CAMPER, and the metaphorical entailment of the source domain CIRCUS constructs the target domain CAMPER. This study analyses the lexical, visual and spatial metaphorical entailments employed by Camper in order to demonstrate how these create a consistent chain that tightly binds its entire discourse and makes the brand discourse coherent.
18. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Mark Lemon Packing in Meaning: Applying Jakobson’s Model of Communication to Packaging Design
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From the level of the sign to culture, the practice of semiotic analysis concerns the construction and description of models. Within commercial semiotics, a few of these models (notably Greimas’s semiotic square and Raymond Williams’s concept of residual, dominant, and emergent), have proven particularly useful due to their ability to summarise cultural phenomena in a form readily digested and applied by marketing professionals to their brands. Packaging design is a frequent subject of commercial semiotic enquiry and draws on a wide array of semiotic phenomena ranging from visuals, to textures, and the lived experience of interacting with the package. How can we approach a comprehensive understanding of the potential of packaging design to communicate meaning? In what ways can we say that a package can ‘mean’, and how as semioticians can we help analyze and create novel packaging solutions that further brand meaning? Roman Jakobson’s general model of linguistic communication proposes a diverse array of cross cultural communicative functions for language, but is not currently a key model in the commercial semiotician’s toolkit. This paper proposes that this linguistic model has the potential to be translated into the multisensory realm of general semiotics and applied to packaging design. It will particularly consider how Jakobson’s six communicative functions (emotive, referential, poetic, conative, metalingual, and phatic) are relevant to the numerous non-linguistic sign systems (colour, texture, shape, typography, imagery, material etc.) employed in packaging. In so doing, this paper proposes a system for understanding the meaning potential of packaging design as not only an aesthetic vehicle but also a strategic tool for the cross-cultural development and communication of brand identity.
general research article
19. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Barry Stampfl Hypothetic Inference as “Peculiar Musical Emotion”: Interpreting Hüsker Dü
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An invitation to consider my own continuing engagement with alternative rock music has caused me to ponder the role of personal history in the development of individual musical preferences. I will rely on Peirce’s concept of hypothetic inference (aka abduction) as an optic for re-seeing some standard distinctions in the discussion of the aesthetic responses of musical listeners. A certain passage from Peirce that interrogates the nature of “peculiar musical emotion” makes it possible to question assumptions regarding the mechanisms that enable music to express and, especially, to arouse emotions in an essay by music theorists Jennefer Robinson and Robert S. Hatten. I will suggest that Robinson and Hatten’s description of episodic memory as a source of musical emotions that is not aesthetically warranted requires reconsideration. By adapting Norman N. Holland’s psychoanalytic analysis of individuals’ responses to literary texts to the aesthetic responses of musical listeners, we can see that between episodic memories and aesthetic responses there is an intervening term, “identity theme”, that cannot be disregarded. Holland’s approach discloses a seamless connection between episodic memories and certain kinds of emotional responses to music that Robinson and Hatten do consider to be aesthetically warranted, those that are comprehended under the persona theory of musical emotions. In the final section of my essay, I will focus on my own obsession with the alternative rock band Hüsker Dü in order to show the unavoidability of episodic memory for the understanding of music’s emotional impact.
book reviews
20. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 34 > Issue: 3/4
Frank Nuessel The Greimas Centennial in Review
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