Ashok R. Kelkar



The 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)







                                              Signation      INTERPRETER










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.







COMMUNICATOR.................message................INTERPRETER (ADDRESSEE)










Figure 2. A Communicative Event.


            Think 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.


            Signs 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.


            We 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 example).




            A rapid survey of the world of non-linguistic signs will be useful at this point.

            To 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.


            Natural 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 affairs.


            The 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).


            Animal 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 rightness.)


            Animals, 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.


            Finally, 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.


            We 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.)


            Obviously, 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.


            The 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.


            To 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.


            We 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 sign.


            The 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 covenant-dependent respectively.  Or a sign may move towards the pole of art – through being continuous or tacit or mimetic or deictic or context-sustained respectively.


            Our 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.


            Mathematics 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.


            Symbols 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.)


            Visual, 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 and tantra).


            We 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.


            Finally, 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?)


            There 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.


            India’s 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]. 


            When 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 264-5).


            That 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).


            Actually 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.


            Peirce 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).


            While 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,


the sign     the syntactic



other signs

                                    the semantic

 dimension                    the pragmatic

signates                                                                                    dimension





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.


            Semiotic 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, legitimate question.


            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 language.


            Even in 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.







*Based 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 1986.