Sebeok explaining zoosemiotics

Sebeok, Thomas 1990a. Zoosemiotics: At the Intersection of Nature and Culture. In: Danesi, Marcel (ed.), Essays in Zoosemiotics. Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle, 37-47.

But it was the prominent French critic Roland Barthes who - like W. H. Auden's "linguist who is never at home in Nature's grammar" - carried this glottocentricity to its preposterous (but perhaps playfully conceived) conclusion by turning Saussure's formulation topsy-turvy with his declaration that "linguistics is not a part of the general science of signs, even a privileged part, it is semiology which is a part of linguistics..." The validity of this paradox inversion of the customary order of things can be contemplated only, if at all, at the price of throwing all of contemporary semiotics overboard by dividing the animate world into two unequal classes - speechless vs. language-endowed - and then consigning the sign behavior of well over two million extant species of animals beyond the semiotic pale. Yet such is the practical focus of most of Gallic-oriented semiotic preoccupation. (Sebeok 1990a: 38)
This is also why I'm not so very fond of "French science" and semiology. They (meaning Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault to an extent) have very little of significance or comprehensible to say about nonverbal communication.
As for the best Soviet scholarship, this, too, has hithero chiefly focused on the fruitful concept of secondary modeling systems, or macrosemiotic structures, which, by definition, imply a linguistic infrastructure; yet N. Žinkin has cast his studies on communication in baboons in an explicit semiotic setting, V. V. Ivanov is known to share Eisenstein's predilection for circus acts, and leaders of a recently formed team of young biologists in Moscow have privately avowed their semiotic perspective to henceforth guide their investigations of fundamental problems of animal communication. (Sebeok 1990a: 38-39)
Macrosemiotic structures? This is the first time I meet such a term, although I guess it signifies what I call the "supraindividual" predilection of lotmanian semiotics.
The semiotic concerns of ethology have crystallized around the principle of ritualization, a term coined by Julian Huxley, in 1914, to explain how the so-called penguin dance, climaxing the courtship ceremony of great crested grebes, has evolved from a simple locomotory movement by which this bird approaches the edge of its nest; or, interpreted more generally, how a minimally ambiguous sign function is elaborated from movements that are initially devoid of discernible semiotic motivation. This very fertile ethological concept has already opened up vast perspectives for a diachronic semiotics, but its potential implications for the phylogenetic analysis of the components of human communication have as yet barely been touched upon, e.g., by R. J. Andrew, Ian Vine, and others in England, by J. A. R. A. von Hooff in the Netherlands, in I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt's capital 'human ethology' worshop in Bavaria, or in the course of a disappointingly inconclusive multidisciplinary cconference of the Royal Society, voluminous transactions of which were published seven years ago. (Sebeok 1990a: 39)
A neat historiological factoid.
Ethologists refer to the behavioral dossier of species as its ethogram, and, like N. Tinbergen, would place a special emphasis on the importance of amassing a complete inventory of patterns for each. In semiotic terms, this concept encompasses an animal's species-specific communicative code, in confrontation with which the human observer's role necessarily becomes that of a cryptanalyst, of someone who receives messages not destined for him and is initially ignorant of the applicable transformation rules. (Sebeok 1990a: 40)
On this point, I'm sure, Sebeok consulted Jakobson.
The word display is another commonplace in the vocabulary of ethology, as featured, for instance, in the title of E. A. Armstrong's erudite conspectus, Bird Display (1942; in later editions, expanded to Bird Display and Behaviour). Thus a rhesus monkey's simple stare is considered a low-intensity display of hostility. This term, however, remains a seldom defined or refined zoosemiotic prime, vaguely understood by everyone to refer to such behavior potterns, of sometimes bizarre complexity, that are deemed by an expert observer to have a predominant communicative function: indisputably, for instance, the intricate courtship activities of bower-birds, that use 'display-objects' of certain specified color combinations which they have collected with great discrimination to decorate their avenue- or maypole-type houses and ornamented gardens with, substituting, as it were, glittering natural jewelry for drab plumage, are likewise characterized as displays. In brief, the ethologist's 'display' is synonymous, or substantially overlaps, with the semiotician's master concept, the 'sign,' whether simple or compound [...] (Sebeok 1990a: 41)
This suggestion is very relevant for my purposes, as "display" is also a term in Ekman and Friesen's approach to facial expressions. E.g. "display-rules".
Such an integrated description is, unfortunately, very rarely given in animal communication studies, yet not surprisingly so, since a fully coordinated account of our verbal with our non-verbal processes is also sadly lacking: as for Hamlet's players, discretion must, therefore, still be our tutor when we "suit the action to the word, the word to the action." (Sebeok 1990a: 44)
I believe this is what some of us are actually trying to do. That is, we're trying to coordinate verbal with nonverbal processes.
While semiotics, at least in the vital Locke-Peirce-Morris tradition, continues to widen its horizon to comprehend the entire animal kingdom, indeed, the whole of organic existence (hence G. Tembrock's preference for a broader label, biosemiotics), as well as the sign functions of machines (so S. Gorn speaks of the fundamental semiotic concept of computers), ethology is likewise moving to enlarge its scope to embrace man (a facilitative step in this direction was the recent creation of a semi-independent research group for human ethology, under the prestigious auspices of the Max Planck Institute of Behavioral Physiology, and one must also single out the work of N. Blurton Jones with young children in England). By sytematic application of the principles of ritualization and its corollaries to aspects of non-verbal behavior, over an impressively world-wide data base, much of it freshly collected and preserved on film, some salient facts have already been established, pertaining, for example, to the universality of certain human facial expressions and gestures previously considered culture-bound. (Sebeok 1990a: 46)
I must definitely check out Saul Gorn. His 1968 paper is on JSTOR but not accessible for some reason (I got the PDF from the paper fairies though). Sebeok's note about facial expressions is a reference to Ekman and Friesen's work.

Sebeok, Thomas 1990b. "Talking" with Animals: Zoosemiotics Explained. In: Danesi, Marcel (ed.), Essays in Zoosemiotics. Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle, 105-113.

All communication systems, especially those of animals, are studied under six major rubrics. I have already mentioned that messages, or strings of signs, are a chief focus of attention, but all messages have to be generated by an emitting organism (source or addresser) and interpreted by one or more receiving organisms (destination or addressee). The kind of messages emitted is dictated by the biological makeup of the source, particularly its sensory apparatus, and the environmental conditions, or context, to which the species has adapted. A message can but rarely be transmitted directly in the shape in whic hit was generated (quite probably, electrochemically). Messages have to be encoded in a form that the channel connecting the communicants can accommodate. For the message to have an impact the receiving animal must have the key for decoding it back into suc ha shape (also electrochemical) that its biological makeup enables it to interpret. This is the reason why messages appear in coded form, and why the source and the destination must (at least partially) share either an inherited or a learned code, or, commonly, some mixture of both. (Sebeok 1990b: 108)
A modification of Jakobson's communication model that emphasizes biological makeup of sensory apparatuses. Sebeok views the context as situation, very much unlike Jakobson, for whom context is graspable for the addressee through the message. Sebeok does recognize the seventh element - impact of effect... And even relates it to the code in a way that seems to make room for metacommunication.


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