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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 47
Approaches in Tartu Semiotics

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1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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
10. 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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11. 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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12. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 3/4
Arran Gare Report on the 19th annual Gathering in Biosemiotics in Moscow
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articles
13. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Anti Randviir From systematic semiotic modelling to pseudointentional reference
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Societies as open social systems work through semiotic modelling systems. We view their relevance for shaping primary and secondary needs, as well as metaneeds that are conditioned in social systems. Through conditioning in socialization, semiotic reality can be naturalized up to a level where we can start speaking about not only unconscious, but also unintentional semiosic activity. By that, the very realm of indexicality will be questioned. If indexicality is conjoined with unintended referentiality, then unintentional semiosis means the blurring and fusion of realities far beyond the so-called simulacral semiotic spaces. It is especially acute in the context of the development of technological availabilities where the physical, the semiotic, and the purely virtual reality merge. That quite novel phenomenon is exemplified by semiotic insularization. What follows is that it is hard to define the research object, for the subject is fading away, the real and the virtual are intermingling also in terms of their inhabitants (biological humans, computer users, avatars, virtual identities). Thus the pragmatic dimension of semiotics is gradually becoming lost. Also, the referential reality is moving farther from the informational space created and represented in “traditional” discursive flows, rather becoming based on pseudoreferential clues of meaning making.
14. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
E. Israel Chavez Barreto Funktionskreis and the stratifi cational model of semiotic structures: Jakob von Uexküll, Luis Prieto and Louis Hjelmslev
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The main aim of this article is to show how a possible theoretical articulation between Uexkull’s notion of Funktionskreis and the stratificational model of semiotic structures proposed by Louis Hjelmslev can be made. In order to bridge the gap between these two models, Luis Prieto’s model of cognition will be used. The advantage of Prieto’s model is that it retains the Hjelmslevian stratificational ideas (i.e. a semiotic structure is made up of an expression and a content plane, each one with a dimension of form and substance), while it also pays attention to agency and practice. To put it briefly, according to Prieto the foundation of practice and knowledge is to be found on aisthesis. Hence, as in Uexküll, there is a way to merge action with perception, while retaining the semiotic structure that makes such a merging possible. The key point, however, is that Prieto’s model calls for an “ontological commitment” to the substance strata (both in expression and in content to some extent). Therefore, bridging Uexküll and Hjelmslev via Prieto suggests a possible way to provide a general structural model of semiosis which is closer to semiotic realism than to immanentism usually attributed to structuralism.
15. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Kalevi Kull Steps towards the natural meronomy and taxonomy of semiosis: Emon between index and symbol?
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The main aim of this brief and purposely radical essay is to investigate further possibilities for empirical research in natural classification of semiosis (signs as wholes). Before introducing emon – a missing term in the taxonomy of signs – we make a distinction between the natural and artificial, and between the taxonomic and meronomic classifications of signs. Natural classifications or typologies are empirically based, while artificial classifications do not require empirical test. Meronomy describes the relational or functional structure of the whole (for instance triadic, circular, etc. composition of sign), while taxonomy categorizes individuals (individual signs). We argue that a natural taxonomy of signs can be based on the existence of different complexity of operations during semiosis, which implies different mechanisms of learning. We add into the taxonomy a particular type of signs – emonic signs, which are at work in imitation and social learning, while being more complex than indexes and less complex than symbols. Icons are related to imprinting, indexes to conditioning, emons to imitating, and symbols to conventions or naming. We also argue that the semiotic typologies could undergo large changes after the discovery of the proper mechanisms or workings of semiosis.
16. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Ott Puumeister Biopolitical subjectification
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The article proposes a semiotic interpretation of the concept of biopolitics. Instead of a politics that takes “life itself ” as its object and, as a result, separates life as an object from subjects, biopolitics is read as subjectification – a governmental rationality that constructs social ways of being and forms of life, that is, social subjectivities. The article articulates this position on the basis of two concepts: Jakob von Uexküll’s umwelt and Michel Foucault’s dispositive. While the former makes it possible to show that the process of life can be conceptualized as subjectification, the latter enables us to argue against an interpretation of biopolitics as a totalized structure of power intervening directly, without semiotic mediation, into “life itself ”.
17. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Andreas Ventsel, Mari-Liis Madisson Semiotics of threats: Discourse on the vulnerability of the Estonian identity card
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This article analyses various e-threats that were expressed in media texts that focused on e-threat discourses concerning the Estonian identity card’s security risk in 2017. The discourse of cyberthreats contains strong and controversial meanings because the peculiarities of cyberspace remain intangible for average readers who do not possess expert knowledge regarding ICT. The wider aim of the paper is to suggest how the topic of e-threats could be given public coverage without fuelling irrational anxiety and unwarranted threat scenarios. Our theoretical basis combines the frameworks of the Copenhagen School of security studies and ideas of cultural semiotics. We explain the semiotic logic of phobophobia (i.e. the abstract concern with the devastating impacts of the collective feeling of fear) and the discourse of fear that is characterized by a significant reliance on analogies, drawing vague demarcation line between reference objects and the dominance of negative emotional tonality. Our study demonstrates that the main actors of threat and the consequences of the identity card’s security problems were associated with unknown hackers and the damaging of the reputation of Estonia as an e-state.
18. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Maarja Ojamaa, Peeter Torop, Alexandr Fadeev, Alexandra Milyakina, Tatjana Pilipovec Culture as education: From transmediality to transdisciplinary pedagogy
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For the past three years, the Transmedia Research Group at the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, has been developing open access online materials for supporting the teaching of humanities-related subjects in Estonian- and Russian-language secondary schools. This paper maps the theoretical and conceptual starting points of these materials. The overarching goal of the educational platforms is to support cultural coherence and autocommunication by cultivating literacies necessary for holding meaningful dialogues with cultural heritage. To achieve the goal, the authors have been seeking ways of purposeful harnessing of transmedial, crossmedial and other tools offered by the contemporary digital communication space. We have started with an understanding of culture as education – a model which is grounded in cultural semiotics and highlights the role of cultural experience and cultural self-description in learning literacies. From these premises we proceed to explicating the value of a transdisciplinary pedagogy for methodical translation of the theoretical concepts into practical solutions in teaching and learning culture.
19. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Martin Oja On the concept of the deceptive trailer: Trailer as paratext and multimodal model of film
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The goal of the article is to contribute to the basic framework of the semiotic study of film trailers, approaching the trailer as a model of film. Discussing the signifying relations between the trailer and the film, I clarify mechanisms through which meta- or paratexts model their source texts and shape their reception. As examples, two cases in which trailers appear to be deceptive about the film’s genre are closely looked upon as the multimodal construction of the trailers of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives is analysed. Following Lisa Kernan and Keith Johnston, the film’s genre is seen as the central type of information communicated by the trailer. In this context, genre is understood as dominant in the sense of Roman Jakobson. I propose dominant as the crucial concept: examining incoherences between the dominants of the film and its trailer makes it possible to conduct a closer analysis of the misleading model-making and to predict possible disappointment in the viewing experience.
20. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 47 > Issue: 1/2
Jason Mario Dydynski, Nelly Maekivi Darwin’s antithesis revisited – a zoosemiotic perspective on expressing emotions in animals and animal cartoon characters
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In the animation and design of cartoon characters, animators have often turned to the study of biological theories and observation of human actors and animals to capture lifelike movements and emotions more successfully. Charles Darwin’s principle of antithesis, as one of the principles he considered to be responsible for the expression of emotions in animals, would seem to be of distinctive importance in the development of animation. By revisiting Darwin’s original idea in the context of the principles of animation formulated by Thomas and Johnston, we are able to assess its application and relevance in the expressions of emotions in cartoon animal characters. The article concentrates on the emotive function of animal social communication as outlined in zoosemiotics, while taking into account that the expressions of animal characters are directed at the viewer. The principle of antithesis, as a descriptive tool, aids us in considering the diversity of modalities used simultaneously in affective communication, and serves to explicate human interpretations of the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic projections onto the behaviour of cartoon animal characters. This paper offers insight into the potential expansion and re-evaluation of unattested principles in animation, which can be utilized by animators in the creation of more dynamic and expressive animated characters.