The Body in the Sign

AutorDanesi, Marcel, 1946-
PealkiriThe body in the sign : Thomas A. Sebeok and semiotics / by Marcel Danesi
IlmunudOttawa : Legas, 1998
ViideDanesi, Marcel 1998. The body in the sign: Thomas A. Sebeok and semiotics. Ottawa: Legas.

In humans the dominance of the iconic mode of representation suggests that perhaps all signs start out as simulative portrayals of a referential domain. Sebeok calls these primary models. They are at first tied to the operations of the sensory apparatus - i.e. they are simulations derived from sensory patterns of recognition. It is only after they have become routinized through cultural diffusion that they grow free of sensory control and take on an abstract quality, becoming secondary (language) and tertiary (cultural symbols) models. For sebeok, iconicity lies at the core of semiosis. (Danesi 1998: 10)
This sums up what Danesi has already written elsewhere (2001. Hediger through Sebeok: An Introduction to the Biosemiotic Paradigm. In: The Swiss Pioneer in Nonverbal Communication Studies, Heini Hediger (1908-1992)). Here the modelling theory can be compared to that of cultural semiotics and raises the question whether somato-kinesthetic data is or is not semiotic.
The sense-implication hypothesis (SIH) posits that all sign-making efforts are initially grounded in the experiential realm of the senses. In this conceptual framework, semiosis is considered to constitute a transformation of bodily experience, converting the external world of the senses into an internal one of representation. It is interesting to note that this view of semiosis has come to form the basis of some recent work in philosophy and linguistics (e.g. Johnson 1987; Lakoff 1987), whether or not it is known or acknowledged as such within those fields, and that it has philosophical antecedents in Jon Locke (1690/1973), Giambattista Vico (e.g. Danesi 1993), Ernst Cassirer (e.g. 1946, 1957), and Suzanne Langer (1948), among others. Locke argued that all ideas came from sensation first and reflection later - reflection being the internal operation of consciously recognizing what the senses have previously cognized. Vico saw the human mind as extending the sensory domain. He viewed this extension as a product of the imagination - that part of the mind responsible for manipulating perceptions and ideas inventively. The mind, Vico emphasized, "does not understand anything of which it has had no previous impression from the senses" (in Bergin and Fisch, 1984, p. 123), because it is "naturally inclined by the senses to see itself externally in the body; and only with great difficulty does it come to understand itself by means of reflection" (p.95). Cassirer linked cognition to an unconscious "grammar of experience" whose categories are not those of logical thought, but rather of an archaic mode of sensorial thinking that continues to exert enormous control over our routinized thought processes. Langer saw all efforts to know and understand as essentially aesthetic reactions to the world. The structure inherent in these reactions is converted into analytical reflective forms by language and other symbol-based modes of representation. (Danesi 1998: 17)
The bold definition of semiosis here is a crass cognitivistic one. But I do think this is comparable to Peircean/Merellian semiosis. And at the same time, it kinda skips indexicality and jumps straight from the continuous-iconic to the discrete-symbolic. I should really read Cassirer and Langer, can't put them off for much longer.
The iconicity hypothesis (IH) posits that the iconic mode of representation is the primary means by which bodily experience is transformed into a system of signs and meanings. The recurrent patterns of color, shape, dimension, movement, sound, taste, etc. that are constantly being monitored by our perceptual systems are extrapolated from their units of physical occurrence (= referential domain) by the "apperceiving" mind which is instinctively prepared to convert these referential domains into mental models. These form the basis of simulatice, replicational, or imitative signs formed and expressed through verbal and nonverbal channels. (Danesi 1998: 18)
Seems like some useful thoughts for modelling the behavioural sphere.
As rudimentary as they might seem, such representational strategies allow human infants to refer to virtually anything they notice or find interesting in their immediate environment. This, in turn, allows them to make a vital psychological connection between their developing bodies and minds to that environment - i.e. it allows them to construct the Self. To put it figuratively, the first signs created by children constitute the "representational glue" that interconnects their body, their mind, and the world around them into a holistic continuum of stabilized personal experiences and knowledge that we call the Self. As the child matures, this continuum will be shaped more and more by the particular signs to which he/she is exposed in his/her immediate social world. This is because the child soon discovers that these signs are effective tools for thinking, planning, and negotiating meaning with others. In other words, the culturally forged signs acquired by the child in context, and the meaning processes they entail, allow him/her to gain entry into the cultural order. At first, the child will compare his/her own attempts at sign-making against the signs he/she picks up in context - this can be seen, for instance, when the child talks to himself/herself typically during play, exploring the power of words to reflect the world and to connect him/her with it. But through protracted usage, the signs acquired in context will gradually gain cognitive dominance in the child, and eventually mediate and regulate his/her thoughts, actions, and behaviors. (Danesi 1998: 20-21)
In the first instance, this passage draws a similar connection between SIGN and SELF, as Y. Lotman drew between CODES and PERSONALITY (Lotman 1990: 22). In the second instance, the child is basically comparing personal/private signs with shared/public signs and choosing the effective ones.
Wittingness: This refers to the fact that certain messages are unwitting or unconditional (e.g. the signals sent out by pupil responses); others are witting, showing purposeful and intentional behavior. (Danesi 1998: 47)
Weirdest synonym to intentionality I have met thus far.
  • Thom, R. (1975). Structural Stability and Morphogenesis: An Outline of a General Theory of Models: Reading: W. A. Benjamin. TÜR
  • Clarke, D. S. (1987). Principles of Semiotic. London: Routledge and Kegan. TÜR
  • Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. TÜR
  • Smith, J. W. (1977). The Behavior of Communicating: An Ethological Approach: Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. GB
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. TÜR


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