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1. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Paul Cobley, Adrian Pable, Johan Siebers Editorial: Signs and communicators
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2. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Charlotte Conrad Creating reality as a locally tailored interface – an integrational, pragmatic account of semiosis
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Linguistics and semiotics traditionally assert the view that communication presupposes signs. Integrational linguistics challenges this notion by refuting the first-order ontological status of signs and semiological codes. Yet if communication does not depend on pre-established signs, then how does semiosis proceed? And what is the basis for the intuitively acceptable notion that codes do exist as socially carried structures among living beings? In this article I present an integrational account of semiosis based on the suggestion that sign-making is a perceptual activity. I draw on William James’ concept of human experience to expound Roy Harris’ claims for the radical indeterminacy of the sign, for contextualization, and for the process of integration. In closing, I consider the role that mental associations, for example, those between language sounds and concepts, play in communicative activity.
3. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Peter Kastberg Modelling the reciprocal dynamics of dialogical communication: On the communication-philosophical undercurrent of radical constructivism and second-order cybernetics
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Even though both Ernst von Glasersfeld, the founding father of radical constructivism, and his epistemological alter ego, Heinz von Foerster, one of the principal architects of second-order cybernetics, would both repeatedly stress the formative importance of communication, neither would ever model communication as a phenomenon per se. I will propose a first modelling of communication as seen through the stereoscopic lens of these two schools of thought. I will first present, discuss and evaluate how communication is traditionally modelled. This will serve as an informed backdrop when I proceed to integrate the common denominators pertaining to communication from relevant works of both scholars. In addition to the fact that both would willingly profess to the ‘Linguolaxis’ of Maturana and Varela, i.e., that humans exist suspended in communication, two basic assumptions have proven formative. Firstly, that communication is perceived as a flux, as an almost William-James-like ‘stream of communication’. Secondly, and this is more in the vein of Heraclitus, that both communicators and communication alike undergo transformations in the process of immersion. This implies favouring a view of communication in which communication is a perpetual oscillation between ongoing reciprocal perturbations (Glasersfeld), that occur over time, and the endeavours to re-establish (cognitive) homeostasis (Foerster). The latter must not be reduced to either mere compliance, as it were, i.e., that the ‘other’ does as s/he is told, or to the mutual understanding of a dominance-free communication of a Habermasian persuasion, but rather in the pragmatic notion of ‘compatibility’ (Glasersfeld). For illustrative purposes I will end this paper by translating these notions into a model depicting what I have labelled co-actional communication, in effect forging an exemplar.
4. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Cary Bazalgette Even a two-year-old can do it!: The early stages of learning to understand moving-image media
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Film scholarship has consistently avoided discussing how we learn to understand the complex, multimodal systems of communication that moving-image media (referred to here as ‘movies’) have evolved into over the last 125 years. This article offers some reasons for this neglect: in particular, the popular assumption that movies are extremely easy to understand, and the relative lack of research on two-year-olds – the crucial phase in which this learning must take place. Drawing on a 20-month study of a pair of dizygotic twins, a vignette of their early viewing behaviour illustrates the features of focused attention which characterized their investment of energy in trying to make sense of movies. An analysis of this phenomenon, using concepts from embodied cognition, shows how instinctive responses relate to thought and reflection. Setting two-year-olds’ movie-watching within the wider contexts of story-reading, play and the enjoyment of repetition, the article provides evidence that such learning does take place and can be seen as a significant aspect of two-year-olds’ “entry into culture”.
5. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Dorthe Duncker Chatting with chatbots: Sign making in text-based human-computer interaction
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This paper investigates the kind of sign making that goes on in text-based human–computer interaction, between human users and chatbots, from the point of view of integrational linguistics. A chatbot serves as a “conversational” user interface, allowing users to control computer programs in “natural language”. From the user’s perspective, the interaction is a case of semiologically integrated activity, but even if the textual traces of a chat may look like a written conversation between two humans the correspondence is not one-to-one. It is argued that chatbots cannot engage in communication processes, although they may display communicative behaviour. They presuppose a (second-order) language model, they can only communicate at the level of sentences, not utterances, and they implement communicational sequels by selecting from an inventory of executable skills. Instead of seeing them as interlocutors in silico, chatbots should be seen as powerful devices for humans to make signs with.
6. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Chris Barnham Hegel and the Peircean ‘object’
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Peirce’s semiotics is well known for advocating a triadic, rather than a dyadic, sign structure, but interpretations of how such a structure works in practice have varied considerably. This paper argues that the Peircean ‘object’ is central to understanding Peirce’s philosophical intent and that this element should be construed as a mediating element within the sign rather than as an originating source of it. This interpretation resonates with the fundamentally anti-dualist character of Peirce’s philosophy and it creates potential convergences with the medieval philosophy of Duns Scotus – which was so influential in Peirce’s thinking. Moreover, construal of the ‘object’ as a mediating entity within the sign highlights important parallels with Hegelian thought and the role of the ‘essence’ in the latter’s dialectics. It is argued, indeed, that Peirce’s triadic template for the sign has strong Hegelian roots. This substantially repositions Peirce’s semiotics; it becomes, as in Hegel’s dialectics, an account of concept formation. The over-arching framework in which this takes place, however, retains an adherence to Peirce’s empiricist background and so avoids the reliance on logic which is the defining characteristic of Hegel’s dialectical method.
7. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Adrian Pablé Integrating biosemiotics: From a semiological point of view
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This paper is a study in the ‘philosophy of semiotics’. It is centred on a critical approach to the Peircean sign conception, which underlies biosemiotics and the global perspective on signs. The present discussion tackles questions of ontological and epistemological interest, which it does by taking a distinctly semiological point of reference. The semiology which the present critique draws inspiration from is Roy Harris’ integrationism, an approach to human communication which rejects Saussurean semiology – the common target of Peircean semiotics. Integrationism explains signs in relation to human activities. It shares with biosemiotics a view of reality as species-specific, but takes a skeptical position towards the investigation of non-human signs on the grounds that it implies a metalanguage impervious to the radical indeterminacy of the sign. Integrationists take this indeterminacy as the starting point for their reflections on human communication.
8. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Johan Siebers Philosophy as communication theory
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There has been comparatively little attention for the fundamental ontology of communication in recent philosophy. Nevertheless, from classical metaphysical accounts of relationality and communal being to the analysis of intersubjectivity in phenomenology and to concrete existence as understood by process philosophy, the communicative structure of the act of being has been, if not explicitly then implicitly, a perennial component of metaphysical reflection. Communication theory can be conceived in such a way that it takes this ontological dimension into account. The ramifications of connecting being to communication in this way are explored in discussion with the conceptualizations of communication in integrationism and biosemiotics. An interpretation of Gabriel Marcel’s existential analysis of “my life” is used to show what philosophy as communication theory (in the strong sense of the notion elaborated here) might look like.
9. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 48 > Issue: 1
Paul Cobley “Who goes there?” Reflections on signs and personhood in Christopher Hutton’s Integrationism and the Self
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10. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Cary Campbell, Alin Olteanu, Kalevi Kull Learning and knowing as semiosis: Extending the conceptual apparatus of semiotics
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If all knowing comes from semiosis, more concepts should be added to the semiotic toolbox. However, semiotic concepts must be defined via other semiotic concepts. We observe an opportunity to advance the state-of-the-art in semiotics by defining concepts of cognitive processes and phenomena via semiotic terms. In particular, we focus on concepts of relevance for theory of knowledge, such as learning, knowing, affordance, scaffolding, resources, competence, memory, and a few others. For these, we provide preliminary definitions from a semiotic perspective, which also explicates their interrelatedness. Redefining these terms this way helps to avoid both physicalism and psychologism, showcasing the epistemological dimensions of environmental situatedness through the semiotic understanding of organisms’ fittedness with their environments. Following our review and presentation of each concept, we briefly discuss the significance of our embedded redefinitions in contributing to a semiotic theory of knowing that has relevance to both the humanities and the life sciences, while not forgetting their relevance to education and psychology, but also social semiotic and multimodality studies.
11. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Sergio Rodríguez Gómez Cartographies of the mind: Generalization and relevance in cognitive landscapes
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The problem of relevance, at individual agent scale – or how we decide what is adequate for our interpretation of the signs we encounter in the world – is a question that keeps reappearing in semiotics and other disciplines concerned with meaning. In this article I propose an approximation on relevance that conceives meaning as a trajectory across a cognitive landscape. Unlike conventional accounts on relevance, which presuppose mental processes built on feature-based representations, my proposal suggests conceiving cognition as a fluid and emergent field of attractors basins that become specified and modified when experiences appear, and conceiving meaning as a trajectory across the cognitive field. Consequently, I suggest that when cognitive landscapes better fit world experience, agents’ categorizations will be more relevant. My proposal is mainly supported by two approaches: the enactivist notion of structural coupling and the theories of dynamic neural populations of Walter Freeman III.
12. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Suren Zolyan General sociolinguistics, social semiotics and semiotics of culture – ex pluribus unum?: Forty years after Language as Social Semiotic
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The birth of social semiotics is usually associated with the publication of Michael Halliday’s book Language as Social Semiotic (1978). We try to draw attention to possible new developments in social semiotics, which still remain a potential transdisciplinary project for social sciences. In order to do this, we address the interrelation between sociolinguistics, social semiotics and the semiotics of culture. All of these describe mechanisms of meaning production and translation beyond linguistic structures. The differentiation between these workings is based on a distinction between various aspects of meaning production and communication and functional characteristics of goal setting. The complexity of these processes legitimates the complexity of methodology used to describe them. Interconnection between different domains and aspects may create synthetic methods based on the dynamic approach to meaning production and transmission.
13. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Claudio J. Rodriguez Higuera Everything seems so settled here: The conceivability of post-Peircean biosemiotics
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Theory change is a slow, tortuous process. Problems associated with how we communicate ideas and how these ideas are received by our peers become catalysts for change in how we ourselves perceive and sanction what the discipline is capable of doing. Some parts of semiotics, and particularly biosemiotics, have come under critical scrutiny because of their heavy commitment to Peircean philosophy, but at the same time, the contributions of Peircean philosophy are almost impossible to discount. The ripples of this situation are quite visible in the emergence of code biology as a post-semiotic research programme. Yet there is a general balance between those who do not put that much stock in Peircean concepts and those who cannot conceive semiotics without these.This paper will ask whether a biosemiotics after Peirce is possible at all in the sense of acknowledging Peirce’s contributions to the field while also taking to heart the criticisms raised by those skeptical of the implications of Peircean semiotics. While the answer is most likely positive, it depends on what background our concept of meaning relies on and how it may bleed into the other areas of semiotics that biosemiotics may claim a stake on. Being able to discuss potential theoretical distinctions across semiotics while also allowing communication between the areas caught in this differentiation will be crucial for the health of the discipline as the gap between theories becomes more profound.
14. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Katarzyna Machtyl A strawberry, an animal cry and a human subject: Where existential semiotics, biosemiotics and relational metaphysics seem to meet one another
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The article discus ses some semiotic approaches to the relation between nature and culture. Starting with outlining the structuralistic approach to this issue, especially the ideas of Juri Lotman and Algirdas Julien Greimas, the author finds parallels between different views on the relation between the natural world and human beings. First, the juxtaposition of Eero Tarasti’s existential semiotics with selected concepts of biosemiotics is discussed. The following part of the paper is dedicated to Bruno Latour’s ideas on nature–culture relation, hybrids and mediations. Then the author refers to Lotman’s notion of the semiosphere as the common space for all living and inanimate elements. Closing the paper with a return to biosemiotics, the author comes back to Tarasti’s ideas and compares these with some ideas in biosemiotics, paying special attention to the concepts of unpredictability, choice and dynamics. The comparison shows that some intuitions, assumptions and theses of these different scholars turn out to be surprisingly convergent. The author believes that the outlined parallels between Tarasti’s view, Latour’s and Lotman’s concepts, and biosemiotics may be promising for further research, inviting detailed study.
15. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Mirko Cerrone Keepers as social companions: Tactile communication and social enrichment for captive apes
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The article addresses the topic of great ape–keeper tactile communication. The aim of this paper is to understand whether direct physical contact can be considered a source of enrichment for captive apes and whether it could be used to enhance animal welfare in zoos. We make use of a multispecies perspective provided by umwelt theory in an attempt to determine the role of touch in zoological gardens. By referring to Konrad Lorenz, we describe keeper–animal relationships as a special case of companionship, highlighting the role of keepers in apes’ social behaviour. The paper considers social touch as the primary means used by social animals to create and maintain increasingly complex relationships. Since tactile communication in interspecific contexts has been underestimated previously, our theoretical framework allows for a better understanding of physical contact in zoological gardens without assuming an anthropocentric point of view. Our hypothesis is that physical contact with keepers may provide enriching opportunities for social animals and help strengthen the bond between animals and their keepers. We emphasize that ape–animal interactions in zoos need to involve keeper–animal physical contact as a possible means for enhancing the apes’ welfare.
16. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Karoliina Louhema, Jordan Zlatev, Maria Graziano, Joost van de Weijer Translating from monosemiotic to polysemiotic narratives: A study of Finnish speech and gestures
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Human communication can be either monosemiotic or polysemiotic, depending on whether it combines ensembles of representations from one or more semiotic systems such as language, gesture and depiction. Each semiotic system has its unique storytelling potentials, which makes intersemiotic translation from one system to another challenging. We investigated the influence of the source semiotic system, realised in speech and a sequence of pictures, respectively, on the way the same story was retold using speech and co-speech gestures. The story was the content of the picture book Frog, Where Are You?. A group of Finnish speakers saw the story in pictures, and another group heard it in matched oral narration. Each participant retold the story to an addressee and all narrations were video-recorded and analysed for both speech and gestures. Given the high degree of iconicity in depiction, we expected more iconic gestures (especially enactments) in the narratives translated from pictures than in those translated from speech. Conversely, we expected greater narrative coherence in the narratives translated from speech. The results showed that more iconic gestures were produced in the narratives translated from speech, but these were primarily not from the enactment subtype. As expected, iconic enactments were more frequent in the narratives translated from the story presented in pictures. The narratives produced by participants who had only heard the story did not have a greater variety of connective devices, yet the type of devices differed slightly between the groups. Together with some additional differences between the groups that had not been anticipated, the results indicate that a story presented in different semiotic systems tends to be translated into different polysemiotic narratives.
17. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Tatjana Menise Fairy tales between transformation and repetition: How audiences rethink the big romantic myth through Disney princess stories
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One of the ways in which culture becomes enriched is through reconsideration and reinterpretation of well-known stories, and classic fairy tales provide promising material for investigation of the nature of this complex process. The Walt Disney Company is among the most powerful tellers of classic tales, its line of princess animations being an example of simultaneous development and preservation of the fairy-tale phenomenon in a changing cultural context.We analyse the dialogue among classic and modern princess stories and the discussions that these stories give rise to in English-language academic criticism and English-based participatory culture. We focus on the interaction among authors, texts and readers, showing how traditional tales balance between mythological and non-mythological consciousness, between innovative and canonical art.The diversity of fans’ practices may be seen as a key to possible explanation of why fairy tales exist in culture as a complex, constantly growing web, not as a limited number of selected final versions. Amateur authors demonstrate their interest in the mythopoetics of classic fairy tale plots. They are attracted by the old romantic myth that stands behind princess stories, participate in the creation of the romantic anti-myth that is supported by the professional critics, and expect the appearance of new modern myths that might be generated by the new productions of Disney. New fairy tales appear, but this does not result in the disappearance of the old ones. Not only the interests towards the plots themselves, but also discussions and conflict around classic stories keep them topical for contemporary heterogeneous audiences.
18. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Alin Olteanu, Florian Rabitz, Jurgita Jurkevičienė, Agnė Budžytė The case for a semiotic method in Earth system science: Semantic networks of environmental research
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This paper sets a framework for using semiotics as an analytical method for Earth system science. It illustrates the use of such a method by analysing a dataset consisting of 32,383 abstracts of research articles pertaining to Earth system science, modelled as semantic networks. The analysis allows us to explain the epistemological advantages of this method as originating in the systems thinking common in both Earth system science and semiotics. The purpose of this methodological proposal is that of bringing the recent and critical planetary boundaries framework to the attention of ecosemiotics and biosemiotic criticism, and vice versa. Ecosemiotics is a branch of the biosemiotic modelling theory and is thus grounded in Charles Peirce’s schematic semiotics, but also developed in inspiration of Juri Lotman’s systemic semiotics. Both of these foundations of ecosemiotics are compatible with the rationale of Earth system science, given the schematism of Peirce’s semiotics and Lotman’s notion of meaning as an affordance of the biosphere. Far from exhausting the hermeneutic possibilities evoked by the discussed dataset, we argue that such semiotic analysis, made possible by the digital capacity of modelling large amounts of data, reveals new horizons for semiotic analysis, particularly regarding humans’ modelling of the environment.
reviews and notes
19. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Claus Emmeche Multiculturalism, biosemiotics, and cross-cultural friendship: An essay review of Olteanu’s multimodal semiotics of culture
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20. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Douglas Robinson Möbius semioticity: Six takes on Peeter Torop’s semiotics-of-culture model of textuality
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