World of Signs and Symbols:
The Rise of a New Discipline - Semiotics
The FRENCH POET Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) has
said in a famous poem that a man passing through life passes through
“a forest of symbols”. I will make a slight amendment to this remarkable
poetic anticipation of the thinker’s insight – man passes through
a forest of signs and symbols. It is to this forest that I propose
to introduce you. The forest needs such an introduction because one is so much immersed
in it all the time that one is likely to miss the wood for the trees.
We shall have to say something about the sign process, work
out some concept of a sign, and then go on to look at some non-linguistic
signs. (As a professional linguist I must resist the
temptation of dealing with linguistic signs most of the time.) Secondly,
we shall distinguish symbols from non-symbolic signs and look at some
non-linguistic symbols. Finally, we shall take a look at the study
of signs and symbols –now called semiotics.
In the course of this ex-position I shall naturally use a few
terms in a technical manner without, I should hope, loss of intelligibility. Saying things clearly, precisely, without confusion
is especially important in using signs (as we are going to) in discussing
signs, an enterprise that can be (as they say in linguistics) as frustrating
as trying to burn wood in a stove made of wood! Indeed we have to
ward off a danger typical of such an enterprise right at the start
of our present inquiry.
When we talk about signs we are liable to proceed as if there
is a special class of objects called signs - there are chairs, ladders,
and there are signs. Actually practically anything can be a sign,
even a chair suitably modified can be a sign that lets us know who
the chairman is. Rather we should speak of sign-process (or semiosis,
to use the technical term). Semiosis can be examined in events of
a certain sort, sign-event or semiotic events.
We shall start with a traditional Indian example of a sign
event, smoke letting us know about the fire. (One possible advantage
of using a familiar and therefore tiresome example is that it lets
you attend to details more readily.) In a semiotic event, a living
organism (we call it the signant) attends to something of interest
(we call it the signate). In our chosen example the interpreter is a living organism of the
human species. (It is important to remember that sign-events do occur
in the life of non-human living organisms also.) Smoke is the signant. From a distance under a daytime sky one is
likely to see the smoke more readily than the fire. It is something more accessible. The fire is the signate. Seeing
the smoke the human being is led to attend to the fire, which is something
more interesting than the smoke.
The signant stands for the signate. There is logically no reason
why the fire shouldn’t be a sign of the smoke. (This may turn out
to be a mistake – smokeless fires are not uncommon.
But that is not the point. Somebody may look for the smoke
having seen the fire.) The reasons are entirely human, earthly reasons.
The signant and the signate constitute a pair in relationship
(we shall call the relationship signation).
It is this relationship that entitles us to call the smoke
a sign of the fire. Signs are not objects of a special sort, rather
sign objects (the signants) are objects that happen to enter into
a relationship of a special sort with other objects (the signates)
in the context of sign-events occurring in the life-history of organisms (Figure 1)
Figure 1. A Semiotic Event.
Sign-events can be of two sorts.
In the smoke and fire example the interpreting organism is
alerted through the smoke to the fire present in the situation. More
technically, we shall say that the smoke is in this case a sign of
the signalling sort. The same is true of another pair familiar in India –the dark clouds
alert the anxious farmer to the imminent rain. But let us imagine that the sky-watching farmer is accompanied by
his little son, who is also watching the dark, massive clouds. In
the son’s case, a sign-event of quite another sort may occur. The dark, massive clouds may remind the little boy of a huge elephant.
The clouds are the signant, the elephant is the signate.
But then is there any elephant around the corner? No, the presence
of an elephant in the situation is not at all on the cards.
What the dark clouds do to the child interpreter is to remind
the interpreter of the elephant. The dark clouds are a sign once more
but not of the signalling sort. The
child they are a sign of the signifying sort.
Sign-events are in either of these two modes – signalling and
signifying. In the famous
experiment by the Russian physiologist, I.P Pavlov (1849-1936), the
conditioned salivating reflex of the dog in response to the bell as
if the dog is responding to the bone, a semiotic event of a rudimentary
sort is taking place. The bell is a sign of the bone to the dog in
the signalling mode. Whether
there are semiotic events in the signifying (or reminding) mode in
the life-history of dogs and such non-human living organisms or not
is certainly a useful question to ask, but not an easy one to answer.
We have so far been looking at semiotic events and that are
in a way natural semiotic events, they simply happen to the interpreting
organism. (Even the Pavlov experiment is a natural event
so far as the dog is concerned.) But then there are semiotic events
that may have been deliberately brought about with some communicative
intent on the part of some living organism other than the interpreter. So now there are two living organisms in the
picture -the communicator and the interpreter to which the
communication is being addressed.
The interpreter enters the event as the addressee.
(Of course the dog is not Pavlov’s addressee any more than
the circus animal is the addressee of the circus trainer, the human
audience’s illusion notwithstanding.) The signant substituting for
the signate constitutes the message. A communicative event is a semiotic
event built around the communicative intent and –the mutuality between
the two parties to it. The addressee should become aware of the communicator’s
intent: the communicator should become aware that the addressee is
to aware; the addressee in turn... well, let us just say, and so on
and so forth. (Figure 2) The
importance of this complex condition of intent and mutuality can be
brought out with the help of an example.
A Communicative Event.
of a mother and a small child. The
small child wants to draw the mother’s attention to himself. So he shams distress – by making the appropriate
moaning sounds and faces. If
the mother is inexperienced she will fall a dupe in accordance with
the child’s intent. If one
were to be a little rude, one would say that she is playing the dog
to the small child’s Pavlov! This is no communicative event proper.
If the mother is experienced, however, she will be quick to
see through the deception. But,
also being a loving mother, she will be a sport and play the game,
and make the appropriate comforting noises and cuddling moves.
After all the child’s need for attention is genuine. A smart child may realize soon that the mother
has been through the game (and the child may still continue to play
it). The mutuality of communication
is thus achieved. This is
therefore a communicative event though not a linguistic one.
may come singly (we call them sign isolates). An example will
be the white cane of the blind - a sign that does not connect with
any other sign. More likely, signs may come in loose-knit assemblies.
The various traffic signs, for example, constitute such a sign
assembly. Thus, the red triangle with the apex pointing upwards alerts us
to danger and at the same time combines with other signs that alternate
with each other telling the driver what sort of danger is looming
ahead. Finally, signs may combine into something much
more organized with well-defined rules (we call this combining sign
codification). The system
of traffic lights is such a sign code.
Thus, according to one traffic light code a combination of
green and yellow lights resemble the sentence ‘proceed cautiously’
with the yellow light acting like an adverb tot he verb conveyed by
the green light.
have already spoken of mankind’s various natural languages
as sign phenomena. Are they sign assemblies or sign code? Language
scientists would like to believe that a natural language of man is
a sign code and so lends itself better to a neat analysis. When one works with languages long enough,
one realizes that they are fairly messy; at best they can be seen
as either somewhat organized sign assemblies or imperfectly organized
sign codes – depending on whether the linguist is a pessimist or an
optimist. Since a natural human language is such an obvious
example of a sign system, this tempts us to extend the term
‘language’ to all sorts of non-linguistic sign assemblies (the language
of flowers, for example) and sign codes (various computer language
of the language or the language of Bharat Natyam hand mudras, for
rapid survey of the world of non-linguistic signs will
be useful at this point.
begin with, there are the various kinds of signs that humans and,
probably to a limited extent, non-humans also ‘read’ into nature (The
word ‘read’ here of course conveys another language-oriented metaphor.)
Two well-known kinds of such natural sign assemblies going back to
great antiquity are the signs of weather and climate (our Indian farmer
looking at the monsoon clouds probably inherited just such a sign
assembly from his forefathers that is partially recorded in weather
savings) and the signs of health, injury, and disease (the village
midwife inherit another sign assembly as a part of the lore of childbirth).
The natural scientists of modern times are in a way the cultural
descendants of the weathermen, the medicine men, the alchemists, the
cattle breeders, and others of old. The experienced mother, the tribal physician,
and the modern doctor all operate with certain sign chains – the symptom
indicates a certain illness, which in turn indicates a certain remedy.
signs can also be, up to a point, read into specifically human affairs. There are market watchers, Kremlin watchers,
fashion watchers, and others of today.
To listen to them and at least some of the scientists of man
one would think that even specifically human affairs are considerably
if no wholly open to naturalistic, detached interpretations.
Certainly some of these interpretations of signs bearing on
human affairs appear to work. One
need not think that this is a modern trend.
Man has always thought that, to an extent at least, man is
fair game for selfish manipulation and altruistic reform. The wily
adult trying to trap a prospective spouse, the seller and the buyer
at the bargaining counter, the missionary on the look out for a prospective
convert, and many such others are all depending a good deal on isolates,
assemblies, even codes of such natural signs in specifically human
success of such natural signs about man depends in part on the possibility
and plausibility of thinking of man as an animal. Animal signs are
another important area of natural signs. I have not got in mind here
signs having to do with animal anatomy and physiology – looking a
gift horse into the mouth or watching for the signs of fatigue in
a draft animal are in no way different from meteorological or medical
sign-interpretations. Rather have I in mind signs from animal behaviour whether the animals
are taken singly or en masse.
Thus, man has found to his discomfiture that animals appear
to sense danger better; so man watches animal behaviour for signs
of earthquakes, windstorms, the proximity of predatory animals or
the like. Also, animals read signs in other animals of
the same species or of other species.
Is a dog turning tail communicating with the more fearsome
dog? Whatever the answer to this question, it is clear at least that
the fearsome dog is reading a sign in the other dog’s behaviour.
Again, the dog baring the teeth to the other dog is at least
the source of a sign of danger that the other dog may respond to with
flight or fight or cowering on the spot as the case may be.
Man also has his own repertory of animal behaviour that may
be interpreted by other human beings (or even animals, as every animal
trainer is well aware).
behaviour signs and human behaviour signs can be broadly classified
into positioning (keeping the distance or eliminating it by clinging
or holding close or pouncing, for example), postures (cowering and
threatening postures, standing and sitting and lying down, for example),
gestures (gnashing the teeth and making amorous eyes, hugging and
kissing, for example), and finally, emitted sounds (wailing and howling,
distress calls and mating calls, shrieking and laughing, for example).
Children are not only more forthcoming with such animal-behaviour
signs; children also appear to be more sensitive than adults to such
signs in others. (Thus, they
often tell fake loving kindness from true loving kindness with uncanny
in any case human animals, also pass beyond their own bodies and the
bodies of other animals. They
modify their surroundings: they have designs, as it were, on their
environment. They design artifacts: tools, toys, ornaments
and so forth. Environment
design and artefact design are an important source of signs. The dog not only buries the bone but also counts
on being able to locate it on a future occasion. The male bird sometimes
not only makes a nest but also counts on attracting the prospective
mate to this sign of welcome. Man-made designs are of course more
varied, more elaborate, and more wide-ranging.
If I were to take them up now for a more detailed exemplification
I may easily slide into the territory of symbolic signs.
Drums, whistles, smoke, body paint, and yes, traffic lights
are some of the varied artifacts that are available for sending messages
to appropriate addressees.
there is the large area of movements and transactions. Some of this semiosis may go back to the experiences
of early childhood. Just as
feeling or hearing the mother’s heartbeat may be one of the earliest
signs of a reassuring environment (perhaps captured again in the mother’s
patting the child to sleep or in the soothing drum beat), so also
losing the support against gravity or falling down may become one
of the earliest signs of a threatening environment to the child. No
wonder, says the psychologist, that words like down or fall
or downfall have disturbing messages in most languages.
Falling and rising, coming near and going away, moving left
or moving right, going round and going zigzag and going straight –
these are not merely different geometries of movement, but also movements
with different meanings. Movements may involve artefacts –giving and
taking, pushing and pulling, catching and throwing. Again, these are not merely different networks of vectors of force
but also transactions with different meanings. Thus, giving may be from high to low (as in offering alms) or from
low to high (as in offering a tribute) or on a level (as in offering a friendly gift or a fair bargain).
Just recall the various givings and takings that are woven
into an Indian wedding ceremony.
are already on the verge of the world of symbolic signs. (We shall
think of the word symbol as short for the expression symbolic
sign. We are not following the example of those who
oppose signs to symbols. Rather
we shall differentiate between non-symbolic signs and symbolic signs. Usage varies on this point, hence this elaborate
announcement on my part.)
What is a symbolic sign?
In what way is a symbolic sign different from other signs? A symbolic
sign is a sign that calls for and admits of some elucidation.
A symbol is let us say, a more ambitious kind of sign, a more
elaborate kind of sign (The word symbol has of course been
defined in many different or sometimes even opposed ways.
Thus, for certain thinkers the signs of logic and mathematics
are more symbolic than the signs of ordinary language and poetry;
for certain other thinkers the signs of poetry are more symbolic than
the signs of ordinary language and of logic and mathematics. Clearly
this is not a satisfactory way of managing communication with the
word symbol. The definition I have offered here will be
seen, I hope, as more helpful in its very openness.)
whether a sign calls for and admits of some elucidation or not will
depend upon circumstances. Thus,
technical words and non-verbal marks will call for and admit of some
elucidation to a much lesser extent in a gathering of experts than
in a mixed gathering of laymen and experts.
Again, one presumes that a poet will find it rather odd that
his poem or even others’ poems call for and admit of elucidation in
a gathering of ordinary readers and critics. Poems are so transparent to him : any elucidation
is more likely to be a distortion.
A person is more keenly aware of the essentially symbolic nature
of even ordinary language. (The Englishwoman’s outrage is entirely
understandable. Why have the French got to call cabbages shoes?
Can’t they see that cabbages are just not shoes? That was her very
English complaint.) A sign way be more symbolic or less symbolic depending
on the circumstances.
important thing for our present purposes is to be able to say under
what sort of circumstances a sign is more likely to be symbolic: and
under what sort of circumstances a sign is, likely to be more symbolic. Rather than asking the question what kinds of signs symbols are,
let us ask the question what kinds of signs are liable to be symbolic. Human natural language is a partially organized
code of symbols. The question
that naturally arises is what makes language so unmistakably symbolic
in nature. There are various
ways in which symbols can be more ambitious, more elaborate, more
in need of elucidation that non-symbolic signs.
begin with, signs in the signifying mode, signs that remind us of
the signate (remember the dark clouds reminding the child of the elephant?)
are more liable to be symbolic than signs in the signalling mode,
signs that alert us to the signate (remember the same dark clouds
alerting the farmer to imminent rain?).
In other words, signifying signs are more liable to need and
admit of elucidation than signalling signs.
have earlier seen the distinction between isolated signs and signs
that enter into assemblies or codes of some sort.
A sign will get connected with other signs in various ways. A complex sign is constructed out of
elementary signs- the sign for ‘proceed cautiously’ is composed out
of a sign for ‘proceed’ (green light) and a sign for ‘cautiously’. (yellow light). A complex sign is more symbolic than an elementary sign. A routinized sign presupposes several
recurrences. A sign that operates
by virtue of a routine is more symbolic than a sign that operates
for the nonce only. A catenated
sign is a part of a chain of signs- a symptom indicates an illness
of a certain kind which in turn indicates a remedy.
A catenated sign is more symbolic than one not so catenated. In sum, a non-isolated sign is more symbolic than a relatively isolated
semiotic event or, in the case of a non-isolated signant, a cluster
of semiotic events underlies signation – that is, responsible for
the establishment of the relationship between the signant and the
signate. There are various ways in which this relationship may be grounded
and therefore sustained. There
are two different directions in which signs may move by way of acquiring
such grounds for semiosis.
For our present purposes we may say that there are two different
tendencies in the way in which a sign become symbolic.
Logic and mathematics represent one pole, as it were; art and
myth and poetry represent the other, opposite pole.
Ordinary language hovers in between the two poles.
Let us call these two poles, the mathematics pole
and the art pole respectively.
First, we have heard of digital and analogue computers.
In more general terms signs may be discrete (the traffic
light may be either red or green, there are no shades) or continuous
(the brighter the indicator light the higher some measurable property
it indicates) in their operation.
Secondly, signs may be overt, explicit or covert, tacit. The disturbing nuances of ‘down’ or the reassuring nuances of the
heart-beat rhythm that we looked at earlier are largely below the
threshold of awareness. The
success of an advertisement depends, one would suppose, on how covert
or tacit the nuances it exploits are going to be.
Thirdly, signs may be either mimetic (iconic) or arbitrary. Thus, if you are thirsty in a place where you
don’t know the local language you will resort to mimicking the action
of drinking water. An arbitrary
gesture that depends purely on the local convention is not likely
to work. Fourthly, signs may be either deictic
(indexical) or displaceable.
Thus, the traffic light brought to a workshop for repairs will
not work like a sign-code even after the repairs.
It will work as a traffic light only on the scene of action,
namely, the street intersection.
It is indexical and so cannot be displaced.
Fifthly, the associations that make even arbitrary or displaceable
signs effective may draw upon contract or convention (mathematical
signs depend on such stipulations) or they may draw upon the present
context or the body of previous contexts (a child learns the mother
tongue mostly through the gathering contexts and the adult unravels
utterances that may mystify others mostly through placing them in
their present context). In short, signs may be covenant-dependant or context-sustained.
In each of these five ways a sign may move towards the pole of mathematics
–through being discrete or explicit or arbitrary or displaceable or
Or a sign may move towards the pole of art – through being
continuous or tacit or mimetic or deictic or context-sustained respectively.
earlier rapid survey of non-linguistic signs was largely confined
to non-symbolic signs. We
can now make a fresh survey of signs but specially pay attention to
non-linguistic symbolic signs whether of the mathematical sort
or of the artistic sort.
is of course not the only source of symbols leaning to the mathematical
pole. Logic is another. Indeed all technical symbols – whether verbal
or nonverbal – are examples of this kind.
of heraldry, ceremonial, and magic are often mimetic and deictic.
But they also tend to be discrete and explicit and covenant-dependent
and this pushes them towards the mathematical pole. (The
corporate emblems of today are only a sort of heraldry.)
performing, and verbal arts are of course not the only sources of
symbols leaning to the artistic pole.
Symbols of narrative, rite, and magic also belong here. This is especially so with sacred narrative (we call it myth), sacred
rite (we call it ritual), and sacred magic (in India we call it yantra
started with non-linguistic signs ‘read’ into nature. We may return here to symbolic signs of the artistic pole sensed
into nature. Shapes, colours,
and textures : noises, tones, and beats – such are the inputs of our
distal receptors of sights and sounds.
But we also possess more intimate proximal receptors with their
characteristic inputs – smells, flavours, and tastes; feels, pressures,
and temperatures; movement, balance, and orientation.
The effectiveness of our recording and broadcasting media depends
considerably on the deft handling of these sensory inputs.
a rich source of symbols nearer the artistic pole is the fabric of
social relationships, groupings, and transactions.
(Remember the givings and takings of the Indian wedding ceremony?)
is perhaps no better way to close this all too rapid survey of the
world of nonlinguistic symbols than to look at the Indian symbol of
lotus through the eyes of a non-Indian Indologist, Stella Kramisch.
foremost sacred plant is the lotus.
....With its root in the mud, its stalk traversing the entire
depth of the waters on which it rests its leaves, its flower open
to the light of heaven [the sun or the moon according to the variety],
the lotus belongs to this world and those below and above, to Light,
Earth and Water . .. This wondrous plant . . .
enacts their transmutation from earth to light, from mud to
scent, through water to gleaming colour in the regularity of it shape,
not only ordered as it is in all the directions of space, but also
in the regularity of its movement, opening and closing with the measure
of time, of days and nights...... a synthesis is effected of elements
and forms of the cosmos, whereas the processes contained in the pericarp
on high refer to the mysteries of generation......Productivity and
generation .... are one continuous process within the lotus flower
[which drops seedlings, not seeds into the depths of the water].
the lotus flower is supported, not by its stalk in nature, but on
the female body in art, the place of productivity and generation is
also that of consciousness. which
resides in the head.... (Artibus Asiae. volume 19, 1956. pages
is how artistic symbols operate, fusing sensory inputs with the subtlest
and most wideranging tacit perceptions of the mind.
Baudelaire’s insight was echoed by two slightly
later thinkers, the self-taught American philosopher, Charles Sanders
Peirce (1839-1914) and the Swiss philologist who taught himself modern
linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) – all three perceiving
the forest of signs and symbols independently of each other.
Peirce and Saussure laid the foundations of modern semiotics
between them (the latter calling it semiology).
the enquiry into the world of signs and symbols today is sustained
in the form of three traditions pursued in relative independence of
each other. There are indications of late that a synthesis
is slowly emerging or going to emerge.
and Saussure approached the problem in the spirit of scientists, the
latter more so in that he was much more intimately concerned with
the science of language, which he regarded, and I think rightly so,
as a branch semiotics. (Linguists of course must resist the temptation
of making semiotics a branch of linguistics! The language metaphor
mustn’t be taken too seriously.) Is semiotics a human science? Considering
that sub-human organisms also sustain sign-processes, is it a life
science? (Already zoosemiotics is a flourishing branch of ethology,
the science of animal behaviour.) As an empirical enquiry it should
emulate rather than ape the rigour of natural sciences (mere aping
will lead to rigor mortis).
As s theoretical enquiry it should neither get lost in carefully
piled up and pigeon-holed details nor lose itself in careless, woolly,
amateurish philosophizing (the shunning of rigour will lead to paralysis).
Linguists have now been joined by ethologists, communication engineers,
and ethnographers. There is
no reason why economists interested
in money and the fiduciary apparatus shouldn’t join the fun.
The second tradition of
semiotic enquiry is the philosophical one.
(Philosophers have been calling it rather loosely semantics
and are only now catching up with Peirce’s
tripartite division of semiotics into syntactics, semantics,
and pragmatics, of which more later.) Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian
engineer-philosopher (1889-1951), is of course the important name
here though of course not the only one. To put it crudely, he replaced
the dyad of subject and object, mind and matter by the triad of speaker,
language, world (perhaps he would have preferred to say speakers,
languages, worlds). This enabled philosophers to separate to some
extent problems of truth (language – world), knowledge (speakers –
world), and understanding (speakers – language).
the first two traditions tended to focus on logic, mathematics, and
ordinary language, the third tradition focussed more on poetic language,
art, narrative, rite, and magic.
The pedigree of this line of enquiry can be traced through
symbolist criticism to Baudelaire, through Structuralist anthropology
to Saussure, and through symbol oriented aesthetics to Ernst Cassirer,
the German Idealist. The best way of describing this tradition (in which literature and
art critics, culture critics, and social critics join) is to identify
it as observant participation in human life, with the accent on participation. The literary critics mustn’t push the language-oriented
metaphor of taking any sign-complex to be a ‘text’ too far.
(An interesting kind of culture critic would be the critic
of a natural language - pointing out for example, how a particular
language may encourage hypocrisy or bombast.)
Contemporary Indians enjoy a special
privilege of double inheritance – they have inherited these three
Western subtraditions, they have also inherited several ancient Indian
subtraditions that have a bearing on signs and symbols. I have in
mind vyākaran*a, nirukta, mīmāmsā,
nyāya, ānviks$ikī and of course sāhityaśāstra
(grammar, etymology, hermeneutics, logic, epistemology, poetics –
to give very rough and ready Western equivalents). Special privileges
of course carry with them special obligations. Contemporary Indian
semioticians have a special obligation to integrate the insights of
the Indian tradition with modern semiotic enquiries.
An integrated semiotics will not lay
too much emphasis on the pedigree of the insight or on the area of
semiosis –to speak of the semiotics of language, art, mathematics,
positionings and postures and gestures (proxemics and kinesics), advisement,
mass media, and so forth is a matter of convenience only.
There are already signs that the more relevant tripartite division
of Peirce is being taken over not only by the philosophers but also
by the critics. A brief look at this division is called for at this
juncture (Figure 3) A sign is to be studied,
Figure 3. The Three Dimensions of the Sign in Use.
as we saw right at the start, in terms of its relationships. A sign is related to other signs in assemblies
and codes, within a language and within a text. A sign is related
to its signates, the signates of related signs constitute worlds,
even possible worlds. Finally,
a sign is related to the life of its users – the farmer alerted by
the dark clouds of imminent rain hurries through his pre-rain farming
activity, the child reminded by the dark clouds of an elephant may
sketch a picture of the elephant-cloud, the successful advertisement
brings revenue to the advertiser and lowers the sales resistance of
the customer, the word of promise brings obligations to its author
and rights to its addressee the changing modes of address may reflect
changing social relationships in a community, and so on and so forth. The sign is embedded in a way of life. Charles Morris, the intellectual descendent
of Peirce through the sociologist George Mead, codified the Peircian
insight (with an assist from Rudolf Carnap whose amendment he gladly
accepted). Morris said that semiotics has three divisions
– synctactics which deals with signs in relation to other signs, semantics
which deals with signs in relation to other signs and signates, and
pragmatics which deals with signs in relation to other signs, signates,
and sign users. ‘Semiotics’
(and not ‘semantics’) should be used for the whole. Semiotics now
needs to evolve a stabilized and integrated terminology.
discourse, whether undertaken by today’s philosopher, linguist, or
critic or anticipated by Plato, St. Augustine, Bhartrihari, or Anandavardhana,
has its own pragmatic so to say. ‘Why semiotics?’ is a pertinent,
At the practical
level, semiotics can help us to understand and even assist the preset
day impulse to bring many non-linguistic signs and symbols to a pitch
of sophistication and subtlety comparable to that of human natural
the case of language and language-related symbols, semiotics can put
a new life in the study of man-to-man communication (advertisement,
propaganda, ideology, education, for instance), man-to-animal communication
(animal husbandry, circuses pet animals), and man-to-machine communication
(computer and control).
In the field
of human endeavour, humanities and human sciences stand in uneasy
proximity with each other. Semiotics
can help us focus on the interrelations and affinities better by virtue
of its understanding (the speakers-language relationship, you will
recall). Humanities and human sciences in turn need to establish better
communication with natural sciences (of life, matter, and energy)
and with deductive sciences of logic and mathematics. And who could
be a better go-between than semiotics (inclusive of course, of linguistics)?
Semiotics arose in the nineteenth century; it has arrived
in the twentieth.
on the author’s faculty lecture at the Research Students’ Seminar,
University of Poona, February 1985.
I was published in New Quest no. 55:5-14, January –February