Ashok R. Kelkar



Prolegomena to an Understanding of Semiotics and Culture

'Only connect!' - Forster, Howard's End (1910)





Prolegomena are always in the danger of erring on the side of being excessively wide-ranging or excessively confined to the preliminaries or both.  While I am aware of this danger, I am also aware of the danger that an enquiry into the semiotics of culture may end up as enquiry into semiotics and an enquiry into culture unless both the entities are rendered penetrable first.


            First, I propose to give a step-by-step account of the form of semiosis that will build up to its central problems.  If, in doing so, I seem to use a terminology reminiscent of the S-R terminology now discredited (cp. Fodor 1965), let it be understood that what I am using is not so much a ‘terminology’ with any burden of serious claims or presuppositions as to how things really work inside as ‘nomenclature’ for ready identification.


            Next, I shall propose a way of looking at culture that is likely to prove more fruitful in relation to semiotics. Briefly, I do not think that the study of society and the study of culture are quite the same thing.  I also think that the ethnologist’s culture with a small ‘c’ can be fully understood only after relating it to the culture with a capital ‘C’ of ordinary paralance.


            Finally, I shall gather up the strands, or try to. I shall show how the semiotics of culture and the ethnology of semiosis can be defined severally and then interrelated.


            Although we are concerned primarily with human semiosis here, it is useful to start with a more general framework and speak in terms of organisms.  Somewhere along the line we shall let this generality lapse quietly into a specifically human framework.


10.1.1 A rudimentary cosmology

To begin with, then, there is the universe and the organism within the universe.  The organism is an organism to the extent it maintains an internal systemic coherence.


            Although we are concerned primarily with human semiosis here, it is useful to start with a more general framework and speak in terms of organisms.  Somewhere along the line we shall let this generality lapse quietly into a specifically human framework.


10.1. A rudimentary cosmology

To begin with, then, there is the universe and the organism within the universe. The organism is an organism to the extent it maintains an internal systemic coherence.  This is turn depends at least partly on a harmonious interaction with the rest of the universe - at least, with its immediate space-time neighbourhood.  The universe minus the organism – especially in so far as the organism interacts with it - is the environment of that organism.  The interaction is harmonious to the extent that the survival of the organism is assured along with the continued reproduction of other organisms homogeneous with it (i.e. with a like internal system). From the side of the organism, the interaction is seen as a series of S-events – impacts, presentations, stimuli.  From the side of the environment, this interaction is seen as a series of A-events overt responses, undertakings, acts.  S-events and A-events may be life-promoting, life-harming, or indifferent.  Mediating the two presumably, there is another series of events-let us call them I-events – internal to the organism. S-events and S-elicited I-events collectively constitute the experience of the organism to the extent that these cross the threshold into consciousness.  A-events and A-motivating I-events collectively constitute the behaviour of the organism tot he extent that these cross the threshold into observability.  In addition to the S-I and I-A links there are also I-I links.  Are all I-events exhaustively accounted for as either S-elicited or A-motivating or both? Or are there I-events that are both I-elicited and I-motivating? If such is the case, how dies an investigator get at them? I do not know the answers to these questions though I am sure others have positions to take on the body-and-mind problem.  To recapitulate:

1.      The universe=organism + its environment.

2.      There is interaction harmonious or otherwise between the organism and its environment:

(a)    S-events on the organism-interface of the environment;

(b)   A-events on the environment-interface of the organism;

(c)    I-events internal to the organism.

3.      Experience=(S events + S-elicited I-events) that are self-observable.

4.      Behaviour = (A-motivating I-events + A-events) that are other-observable

5.      E-events are events in the universe other than S-, I-, and A-events in respect of the organism.  These may be S-causing, A-caused, or neither.


Are causing, eliciting, motivating fundamentally similar or fundamentally different? If the latter is the case, just how are they different? ‘Eliciting’ and ‘motivating’ seem to link I with I; ‘causing’ links E with E. E with S, and A with E. Does ‘causing’ link E with I and I with E? A putative example will be the thermal, chemical, mechanical, electrical changes in the organism directly affected by the corresponding environmental changes and vice versa as opposed to. say, homeostatic responses in the body to thermal changes in the environment. Either we have to recognize two kinds of I-events – I-events proper related tot he environment through S- and A-events and I-events with one foot in the environment, or we have to recognize two kinds of organism.  How many kinds do we recognize altogether? I do not know the answers to these question though I am sure others have positions to take on the physical-world-and-body problem.  What may be more immediately useful at this point is to indicate that ‘eliciting’, ‘motivating’, and ‘causing’ can each take one of two forms – ‘binds/is bound by’ and ‘release/is released by’.


      The continued harmonious interaction depends on the presence of certain regularities and near-regularities that somehow establish themselves either ab initio ro de novo along chains of the following sort : E-S, S-I, E-S-I, I-A, A-E, I-A-E, I-I, S-I-I, I-I-A, and so on.  Needs, appetites, sensitivities, drives, motives, capacities, interests are some of the commonly recognized types of such routine promoting regularities and near-regularities.


      The life-history of the organism can be described at three levels : (a) a chronicle of all E, S, I, A events involving the organism (where E events may include S, I,A  events in respect of other organisms); (b) a description of the routines and near-routines in terms of the regularities and near-regularities; (c) a narration of the short-term or long-term episodes involving minor or major shifts (losses, weakenings, addition, strengthening, replacements, rearrangements) in the regularities or near-regularities and consequently in the routines (maturation, senescence, learning, unlearning, shock, injury, disease, degeneration, recuperation are some of the commonly recognized types of shift-promoting episodes).  Such episodes may themselves yield new routines.  Some of the routines may actually be routine-generating routines.  But the primary relevance of the episodes is that they bring about a continual restructuring of the organism.  From the side of the organism however what is ------------------ is that the episodes bring about a continual restructuring of the environment for the organism. A widely accepted hypothesis is that life-promoting routines persist and that episodes promoting such routines recur more often.  The opposite is said to be the case with life-harming routines and episodes promoting such routines.  Semiotic events have to do primarily with such restructurings.  To recapitulate :


6.      Experience + behaviour =  (typically observable) life-history.

7.      Life-history = routine-events + episodic events i.e. (near-) regularities and (near-) restructurings.

8.      (Near-) restructurings : (a) of the organism;

  (b) of its environment.


            The structuring and restructuring of the environment has primarily to do with E-S-I regularities.  There are two considerations here :  first, the recognition of a regularity as life-promoting or life-harming leads to an evaluation of the E-event; secondly, any recognition of regularity is more life-promoting than the absence of any such recognition.  The structuring and restructuring of the environment of the    organism involves, therefore, the recognition of categories of E-events; some of these categories are evaluative.  A category, whether evaluative or not, may be more or less reasoned, i.e. there may be greater or lesser play of cognition.  Most of the time, the organism is not aware of any reasons for assigning and E-event to a category, though an observer may succeed in correlating objectively assignable properties of an E-event with the I-event recognized as appropriately elicitable from an E-S event-sequence. (Cp. Slotkin 1950:51-8.)


            The structuring and restructuring of the organism has primarily to do with I-A-E regularities.  There are again two considerations here: first, the recognition of an E-event as life-promoting or life-hindering and the recognition of an A-event as promoting or hindering an E-event of a certain category leads to a categorization and evaluation of A-events in relation to their E-sequels; secondly, any categorization of an A-event as appropriate in an E-S-I-I-A sequence or in an I-A-S-S-I sequence is more life-promoting than the absence of any such recognition. The structuring or restructuring of the organism involves, therefore, among other things the recognition of categories of A-events; some of these categories of A-events may be evaluative.  An A-event may be recognized as an appropriate sequel to an E-S-I sequence (in human parlance, an appropriate way of dealing with a situation) or an appropriate lead to an E-S-I sequence (in human parlance, an appropriate way of leading up to a situation).  Correspondingly, an E-event may be recognized as either a lead to an appropriate S-I-A sequel (in human parlance, a situation calling for a certain kind of dealing) or a sequel to an appropriate S-I-A lead (in human parlance, a situation envisaged in undertaking a certain kind of leading up).  An observer may recognize a situation as one that can be dealt with appropriately in either one of two ways.  The organism may consistently select, however, just one of them.  (This has a bearing later on the rise of conventions – at 31 (b), (c).) Like categories of E-events, categories of A-events may be more or less reasoned, i.e., there may be greater or lesser play of intention.  A piece of behaviour may be undertaken with a clear hope that a desired situation will be maintained or brought about or with a clear fear that in the absence of such a piece of behaviour an undesired situation will continue or come about.  The hope or the fear is motivating I-event.  To recapitulate:


9. An E-event is categorizable as :

(a)    to be/not t be negotiated in a certain way;

(b)   attainable in a certain way;

(c)    avoidable n a certain way;

(d)   to be enjoyed/endured so long as present;

(e)    to be hoped/feared if expected.

10. An A-event is categorizable as :

(f)     appropriate/inappropriate for negotiating an E-event of a certain kind;

(g)    appropriate for attaining an E-event of a certain kind;

(h)    appropriate for avoiding an E-event of a certain kind;

(i)      to be enjoyed/endured so long as undertaken;

(j)     to be in readiness for / against if indicated.

11. Either of these categorizations may be more or less reasoned; and more or less evaluative.


10.1.2 The form of a semiotic event

Now we are ready for an understanding of semiotic events.  What is a semiotic event? Or rather, what is the form of a semiotic event? The organism of whose life-history such an event is a part is the interpreter.  The interpreter interacts with a dyad-the signant (signans) and the signate (signatum).  The signant is primarily an S-event, secondarily the associated I-event and E-event. So is the case with the signate.  Typically, the signant is not identical with the signate.  A semiotic episode takes place when the occurrence of the signant-S leads to the occurrence of the signate-I without the prior occurrence of the signate-S.  The transfer of signant-I to signate-S presupposes a semiotic capacity.  Presumably, not all organisms interpret or interpret similarly.  A semiotic episode may establish a semiotic routine.  Subsequent semiotic events will then conform to this routine.  The presence or absence of signant-I, signate-S, and signate-E in the neighbourhood of the semiotic event is not a part of it, though these certainly provide it with a context.  The relationship between the signant-E and the signate-E is a signation.  Routinized signations are an aspect of the restructuring of the environment to the interpreter.  Such a restructuring of courses involves shifts in the categorizations of E-events and A-events. To recapitulate:


12. A semiotic event has the form:

an organism with the semiotic capacity as the interpreter

interacts with the dayd:

the signant I1-------S1-------E1

the signate I2-------S2-------E2

The angle S1 I2 S2 represents the semiotic transfer.  The line E1 E2 represents signation which can be routinized.


            A question that one can ask at this point is-what is it that leads to the semiotic transfer and the establishment of the signation in the first place and subsequently ensures its routinization? We have mentioned semiotic capacity earlier.  What is this capacity a capacity for? It is a capacity for somehow seizing something about the signant-E and signate-E relationship. There is something about the dyad E1 : E2 that makes it available as a semiotic dyad (E1®E2 E1¬ E2 E1  E2).  There are three questions that one can usefully ask about such a dyad.  What makes a dyad E1  E2 associable? What determines the direction of the semiotic events involving the dyad? What is the strength of the bond? We can only attempt here a partial answer to the questions with the help of illustrations.


13. Grounds of the associability between signant-E and signate-E:

(a)    Space-time contiguity between figure and its ground and between figure and another figure against the same ground: schoolbell (time 1, space figure): confused hum (time –1-, space ground)

tail (time 1, space figure) : the whole of the dog (time 1, space ground)

rain (time 1, space X): wet street (time 1-, spacex)

(b)   Quality-space contiguity:

pigment (red) : blood (red)

black (neutral ‘colour’) : white (opposite neutral ‘ colour’)        

(c)    Mixed:

dog shadow (time 1, space figure, shape x): dog (time –1-, space neighbourhood, shape x) heartbeat (time 1-, space x, reassuring rhythm):

mother’s bosom (time 1-, space neighbourhood, reassuring warmth)

14.  Direction of the semiotic event so grounded:

(a)    the signant is more accessible than the signate:




present cause-future effect

present effect-past cause

sensible even from a distance-sensible on closer approach

(b)   the signate is more interesting than the signant:

recurring attendant circumstances-not so recurring impressive event



animal cry or track or scent – animal

face or fingerprint or mannerism-identity of a person appearance of a mushroom-edible or poisonous

(c)    the operative signant is more salient than the other potential signant:

visible/audible, sensible to other senses

more intense (brighter, louder, etc.), less intense

greater contrast with ground, lesser contrast with ground

more persistent, less persistent

more extensive, less extensive


15.  The strength of the associative bond:

(a)   Signant-S binds Signate-I

Signant-S releases Signate-I

(b)   Bond valid for the given interpreter on different occasions

Bond valid for the given occasion for different interpreters

Bond valid for the given occasion and the given interpreter

(c)    Bond valid for other Es homogeneous with the given E

Bond valid for the given E as such.


            Semiotic events can be in one of two modes-events in which the signant ‘alerts’ the interpreter to the signate and events in which the signant ‘reminds’ the interpreter of the signate.  In the alerting or signalling mode, the signant in some sense points to the existence of the signate in the space-time stretch of the interpreter’s environment: it binds or at least releases the interpreter to attend to and respond appropriately to the signate.  This is typically grounded in causal space-time contiguity.   In the reminding or signifying mode, the signant does not such pointing: it merely binds or releases the interpreter to entertain the signate and respond to it appropriately, to think of the signate.  This is typically grounded in non-causal space-time contiguity or quality-space contiguity.  Indeed, in ordinary parlance, ‘remind’ in one of its sense entails resemblance as its ground.  We are using the word ‘remind’ in the sense in which the ground may or may not be resemblance.  To recapitulate:


16. Modes of semiosis:

(a)    The signant signals the signate, i.e. the interpreter is alerted to the existence of the signate.

(b)   The signant signifies the signate, i.e. the interpreter is led to think of the signate, no existence being implied.


Note: Signalling is the more ‘primitive’ of the two.  A given semiotic event may be both signalling and signifying in character.


            The difference between the two modes becomes clearer when we consider the routinized signation.  In the context of a routinized signation, the observer (including the interpreter) can and may set out to determine whether the semiotic event is apposite, inapposite, or vacuous (appropriate, inappropriate, or null signate).  Further, given two such routinized signations the observer (including the interpreter) can and may set out to determine whether the two semiotic events are related by ambiguity, redundance, or neither; and whether the two underlying signations are such as to yield ambiguity, redundance, or neither.  Finally two semiotic events may be related by fusion (shared signant), fission (shared signate), or neither. To recapitulate:


17. Given that a routinized signation underlies a semiotic event, the signant can be judged as:

(a)    apposite, inapposite, vacuous;

(b)   ambiguous, redundant, biunique;

(c)    fusional, fissional, discrete

Notes : (1) Judgements under (b), (c) can also be made about signations. (2) All these judgements will have to take note of the mode – signalling or signifying – of the semiotic event.


            So far we have thought of the signation as holding between an E : E dyad.  The earlier analysis of categorization of E-events and A-events brought out certain relationships involving dyads of certain sorts (cp. under (9), (10)). The directionality of these relationships and that of signation are strikingly similar.  The first categorizing member in each of the following illustrative dyads is to the second categorized member what the signant is to the signate.  In the formulaic presentation the categorized element is placed in square brackets.



Recurring syndrome of shapes and/or colours and/or sounds and/or smells, etc.: object or state of affairs of a familiar kind; identifying qualities: a piece of one’s property; a familiar face: a celebrity.



Object with familiar qualities: to be enjoyed/endured; upwards, full, light: desirable; downwards, empty, dark:  undersirable, negligible; naked: vulnerable, unendurable, etc.; nude: enjoyable; bitter: to be endured; object of a certain kind or identity: reverence/abhorrence, sacred/taboo.

[E-S-I] – I-A

Situation of a familiar kind: to be/not to be negotiated in a certain way; high point: to be climbed upto; tiger: to be fled from; hot surface: blowing on it; miscellaneous set, left-over set: unimportant.


A situation of a familiar kind : attaining/avoiding it in a certain way; a safe place-fleeing to; a dangerous place-rushing from


Activity appropriate/inappropriate for dealing with a certain situation-that situation; eating raw/cooked-certain foods; activity increased-incentive; act of gratitude/revenge : something done to oneself by another.


Activity with a familiar yield :  to be enjoyed/endured; losing: painful; riddling : pleasant anticipation or recall.


Activity : its familiar yield; pounding : powder; wiping : clean surface; smearing : covered surface; heating :something edible.


            Obviously many of these relationships are fertile ground for the establishment of routinized signations in the alerting or reminding modes.  But perhaps we shall be too hasty in identifying the categorizing relationship with the sign-relationship.  To recapitulate :


18. The categorizing or its associate is a potential signant for the categorized and its associate, the latter being the potential signates.


One difficulty about semiotic events of this kind is that they are likely to exemplify a common source of attenuation in semiosis.


19. A semiotic event is an attenuated one if the signant signals or signifies the signate to the interpreter, but the interpreter is not aware of one of the following: the signant, the signate, the signation, the whole semiotic event as such.


Examples: (1) Covert signant reported in : ‘There was something about him that told me instantly that he was a crook, but I couldn’t say what it was’.

     (2) Covert signate: ‘I know that his demeanour showed that something was the matter but I couldn’t put my finger on it’. 

     (3) Covert signation: ‘My presence reassured him, though I bet he didn’t get the connection’.

     (4) Covert semiotic event: ‘Nature, like a good teacher, teaches a lot without seeming to teach anything at all’.


            A covert signate is not to be confused with the null-signate of a vacuous semiotic event introduced earlier.  Do the ‘hidden persuaders’ (Packard 1957) use a covert signant? I believe they do.


10.1.3 The socio-cultural landscape

So far we have chosen to deal with one organism at a time except for a glancing reference to the perpetuation of a population of homogeneous organisms.  So, the universe occasionally contains many organisms in the same space-time neighbourhood. Of course, given our definition, the environment is necessarily different for each organism.  Environments may overlap; they cannot be identical.  Sometimes the environment of one organism includes (or, in the case of a parasite, is included in) another organism.  Sometimes organisms with a like internal system occupy the same space-time neighbourhood in the universe - that is, the organism is one of a homogeneous population.  Out of this arises the possibility of social experience, social behaviour, and social environment.  A social organism has social capacity – i.e. the capacity to experience fellow-organisms and behave towards them in a special way. Typically the fellow organisms in question are homogeneous with the social organism in question.  Social behaviour tends to be reciprocal - i.e. to take the form of social interaction.  Social interaction tends to be routinized leading to the rise of social roles, relationships, and groups.  Given the prolonged infancy, the complexity of the I-system, and the relative absence of determinate regularities in S-I-I-A and I-I-I sequences ab initio (whether congenitally or maturationally), the human being, especially the immature human being, depends for its harmonious interaction with the environment on social interaction within a homogeneous population.  Social interaction imparts a new meaning to harmonious interaction with the environments: (a) it is a means to the latter; (b) the latter includes harmonious interaction with the social environment; (c) the harmony thus come to involve the survival not only of the organism and the homogeneous population but also of the socially interacting  population.


The routine-promoting regularities and near-regularities of experience and behaviour for a social organism tend to be similar to and/or co-ordinated with those of the other members of the socially interacting population.  This similarity and co-ordination is life-promoting and is ensured by the shared genetic inheritance (genes pool) and the experience of spatio-temporarily overlapping environments.  The overlapping of environments above all means the presence of a shared social envelope of overlapping social environments.  So organisms with a social capacity acquire experience routines and also behaviour-routines in the course of social interaction. There are respectively social categories of experience and behaviour (cp. Slotkin 1950 : 53, 64, 7). Moreover, organisms acquire semiotic routines socially.  All of these profoundly restructure the organism and their environments towards similarity and co-ordinatedness.

To recapitulate:


20. An organism with social capacity is involved in social experience of other organisms, social behaviour to other organisms, social interaction with other organisms.

21. These other organisms are typically fellow members of a homogeneous population and therefore also have a social capacity.  Social experience and behaviour tend thus to be reciprocal.  This creates a shared social envelope of overlapping social environments.

22. Similar and/or co-ordinated experience and behavour routines are due to :

(a)    shared genetic inheritance;

(b)   overlapping environments, especially social environments – in the latter leading to the rise of categories and socially routinized semiosis.


10.1.4 The form of a communicative event

Thus, semiotic events are profoundly affected by and profoundly affect social interaction.  A socially routinized semiotic event may be judged not simply as apposite, inapposite, or vacuous (see 17 (a)) but also as conforming or non-conforming to what is socially categorized as apposite, inapposite, or vacuous.  For example, the diagnosis by a physician may be apposite but non-conforming or may be inapposite or vacuous but conforming!


23. When a semiotic event is socially routinized, it can be judge as conforming or non-conforming, according as the situation for the interpreter conforms or does not conform to the socially routinized signation.


Further, semiotic events may be socially induced.  An organism with a semiotic and social capacity will induce semiotic events involving other organisms.  In other words, organisms act as communicators.


What is the form of a communicative event? A communicative event is a special case of a cybernetic event.  Measurement, control, and the transmission, storage, retrieval, and processing of ‘information’ all involve cybernetic events.  We shall not attempt a characterization of cybernetic events; nor shall be try to say whether any or all semiotic events are cybernetic events.  Our concern is more limited here : we shall attempt to build a conceptual bridge between semiotic events and communicative events. In so doing we shall have primarily before us man-man communication, though I believe that some of the considerations taken up here also apply in part to communication involving non-human organisms and/or man-made machines in addition to or in lieu of human beings.  In building the conceptual bridge, we shall find it useful to talk informally of more ‘ primitive’ and less ‘primitive’ semiotic events. (Recall note to 16 (p. 108).)


24. Some semiotic events are more primitive than others.  In the following pairs the first member is more primitive than the second :

(a)    (i) A non-routinized semiotic event.

     (ii) A routinized semiotic event, i.e. one grounded in a rountinized signation.

(b)   (i) A semiotic event in the signalling mode in which the signate-I is wholly appropriate to the signate-E (classical conditioning and operent conditioning yield semiotic routines of this sort).

(ii) A semiotic event in the signalling mode in which this is not the case (i.e. cases in which one is driven to postulate modified appropriate responses or better to accept that this is some wholly new kind of appropriateness, some new kind of ‘being in readiness for;). (Cp. Fodor 1965.)

(c) (i) A semiotic event in the signalling mode.

     (ii) A semiotic event in the signifying mode.

(d) (i) A semiotic event in which E1 signals or signifies E2 to the interpreter without the Interpreter being aware of the signant or the signate or the signation or of the semiotic event as such.

(ii) A semiotic event in which E1 signals or signifies E2 to the Interpreter with the Interpreter being aware of the semiotic event in its fullness.

(e) In some semiotic events, the signant-E may happen to be an A-event of another organism or an E-event caused by an A-event of another organism.  Let this other organism be called the Neighbour to be distinguished from the Interpreter; and let the signate-E be called an Emanate of the Neighbour.

(i)  The neighbour is not aware of the emanate being a signant tot he Interpreter of some signate.

(ii) The neighbour is aware of the emanate being a signant to the Interpreter of some  signate.

(f)  In some semiotic events of the sort described in (e(ii)) above (i) the semiotic event does not happen in accordance with the intention of the neighbour (though possibly is may meet with the neighbour’s approval);

(ii)  the semiotic event happens in accordance with the intention of the neighbour (i.e. the emanate is brought about in order than the semiotic event be brought about).


            This brings us close to the communicative event.  Some communicative events are more primitive than others.  A convenient way of handling this is to propose successively richer definitions of the term ‘communicative event’.  The more completely communicative the event, the more fully reciprocal the social interaction.


25.  (a) A communicative event of the first degree is an event involving two events, namely:

(i) the underlying semiotic event in which the emanate of the communicator is the signant of a signate to the addresses;

(ii) the supervening semiotic event in which the emanate signals the underlying semiotic event to the communicator (i.e. the underlying semiotic event occurs in accordance with the intention of the communicator).

Example  :A child (the communicator) shams  (the intentional emanate) distress (the signate to the addresses ) to the mother (the addressee).  The mother may or may not recognize the underlying semiotic event (cp. 24(d) (ii)). If she does, she may or may not recognize the supervening semiotic event.  If she does she may or may not ‘refuse to oblige’, i.e. refuse to offer the child a favour.  In any case the child has the communicative intent (cp. 24 (f) (ii)).

(b)  A communicative event of the second degree is a communicative event of the first degree such that -

(i) the underlying event is a complex of semiotic events in which the addressee is aware of the first-degree underlying event and of the second-degree supervening event;

(ii) the supervening event is a complex of semiotic events in which the emanate signals the second-degree underlying event to the communicator.

Example: A child plays the distress-shamming game with the mother.  The mother may or may not ‘refuse to play’, i.e. to refuse to offer the favour anticipated by the child.  Of course the child may or may not have anticipated any offer of a favour.

Note: Conditions (i) and (ii) have prototypes in Girce (1957) and Strawson’s (1964), Lewis’s (1969), Gandhi’s (1974) refinements thereof.

(c)    A communicative event of the third degree is a communicative event of the second degree in which:

(i)      there is the second-degree underlying event;

(ii)    there is a co-underlying event in which the emanate of the communicator is a signant to the signate also to the communicator;

(iii)   there is the supervening event in which the emanate signals not only the second-degree underlying event but also a match between the underlying and the co-underlying events.

Example : A policeman (the communicator) tries to get the motorist (the addressee) to stop the car (the signate) by waving (the emanate).  Had he done so by standing in the way or by leaving a large conspicuous boulder or by shooting a bullet into the tyre, we could merely credit him respectively with a communicative event of the second degree, a communicative event of the first degree, a cybernetic event of the control variety.

Note: Condition (ii) and the new elements in (iii) are an attempt to meet certain critiques of Grice (1957), e.g. it is designed to exclude Zipf’s counter-example (1967) (The irascible George who says ugh blugh blugh ugh blug blug in reply to what he considers to be the army officer’s moronic questions in order to openly offend him) but include Girce’s paradigm examples of ‘A meant something by x’ (= x non-naturally means something).  Zipf’s coutner-example is also searle’s example of the ‘American soldier’ (1965:229-30, commented on at Lewis 1969: 157) are communicative events of the second degree but not of the third degree.


            A communicative event as here considered is, then, a certain configuration f semiotic events amounting to a social interaction.  Can there be a communicative event that amounts to a social interaction that does not involve semiotic events? We are not concerned with that here.  An organism has to have, in order to act as a communicator or an addressee, not merely the semiotic capacity but also a capacity to behave socially (Gandhi 1974).  In order to anticipate the underlying event involving the addressee, the communicator must bring himself to credit the addressee with some semiotic capacity (degrees 1-3) and some social capacity to credit the communicator with communicative intention (degrees 2-3).  (The policeman, for example, would not risk his neck by standing in the way of the car if he had a really low opinion of the motorist’s intelligence and character.  He would rely on the boulder or the bullet instead.) Moreover, communicative intention involves the semiotic virtuosity to select the ground for the underlying event and to gauge the strength of the bond concerned.  The addressee in his turn must bring himself to credit the communicator with communicative intention and a gauge the communicator’s semiotic virtuosity.


            What are the grounds typically supporting underlying (and co-underlying) semiotic events under communicative events? These semiotic events may be in the signalling mode or in the signifying mode.  We can only attempt a partial answer to this question with the help of illustrations :


26. The addressee may be brought to be alerted tot he signate by selecting a signant that depends on:

(a)    simulation of salient associable symptoms  (e.g. the so-called expressive gestures);

(b)   salient associable space-time contiguity (these are pointers of various kinds as in blazing a trail).

27.  The addressee may be brought to be reminded of the signate by selecting a signant that depends on:

(a)      simulation of associable resemblance (these are icons of various kinds);

(b)     salient conspicuousness against ground (knot on the finger as a reminder; poetic deviations of various kinds; peculiar non-chancy combination).

28. The addressee may be brought to be alerted to or reminded of the signate by selecting a signant that need not depend on associability of salience at all and that depends on :

(a) covenant between the communicator and the addressee (example : the Paul Revere parable);

(b) convention in which the addressee is inducted previously or specially for the communicative event

      (example : traffic signals);

(c) contextualization with which the addressee is already familiar or is specially familiarized in anticipation of the communicative vent (the space-time contiguity this time is not between the signant and the signate but between the signant and its semiotic contexts)

(example : most non-technical language).


            It will be noticed that in respect of the underlying and co-underlying events in the signifying mode of a communicative event of the third degree, the ‘reminding’ may not literally be ‘re-minding’; the signate may be of a totally novel kind.


            It will also be noticed that the constitutive semiotic events in the communicative event need not depend on the association between the signant and the signate (cp. 26 (a), (b); 27(a)). Rather it can depend on the association between the signant and the occasions and textual contexts of its previous uses (cp. 28 (c)) or on the salience of the signant from its ground 9cp. 27 (b)) so long as limited secretive communication is not desired or, finally, on social learning as such (cp. 28(a), (b)).  All of these are ultimately grounded in (1) the communicator’s communicative intention, (2) the potential resulting by-play (the addressee recognizing the communicator’s intention, the communicator recognizing the addressee’s recognition, the addressee recognizing the communicator’s recognition, and so on indefinitely potentially), and (3) the potential acquiescence of the communicator in the underlying semiotic event.  So not only do we have to think of the appositeness, inappositeness, and vacuousness of the original semiotic event (cp. the illustrations at 26, 27, and 28), but also of the supporting events.


29. The communicator may or may not :

(a) succeed in saying what he intended the addressee to understand;

(b) say what he himself would consider to be apposite as an observer;

(c) end up having the addressee understand what he intended the addressee to understand;

(d) recognize it if he has failed under (a), (b), (c).


30. The addressee may or may not:

(a) succeed in understanding what was said;

(b) consider as an observer what he understood as having been said to be apposite, inapposite, or vacuous;

(c) end up understanding the way the communicator intended him to understand;

(d) recognize what the communicator himself would consider apposite;

(e) recognize it if he has failed under (a), (b), (c), (d).


                        The gap between saying and understanding (30(a)) and between saying and intending to say (29(a)) will arise if there is a gap between conformity and appositeness (cp. 17(a), 23): the addressee and the communicator may commit errors in conforming to the routine.  The failure under 29(c) and 30(a) may also be due to channel failure or disturbance. The former’s understanding and the latter’s intention may or may not jibe if one or both fail to conform or if the two operate on different signations which are not socially normalized.  The addressee may understand what is said and intended and yet refuse to agree as an observer. The communicator may play false and the addressee may or may not see through.  Finally, the communicator or the addressee or either may not be borne out by the actual state of affairs as seen by the observer.


                        Communication of the third degree opens the door wide for signates of the underlying (and co-underlying) events that are I-events to the interpreter concerned.  Our definition of the semiotic event under 12 thus stands emended.  Be it noted, however, that to the extend one is alerted or reminded of one’s I-events, they tend to be deemed to be part of one’s environment-E-events by courtesy so to say!


            The communicator and the addressee may or may not identify each other-this happens in ‘broadcast’ or ‘relayed’ communication (e.g. traffic signals, blazing a trail, telephonic communication).     There may be interpreters other than the addressee in the communicative event (e.g. the communicator monitoring, the bystanders, the relayers).  Finally, the addressee may be no other than the communicator (e.g. the knot on the finger, talking to oneself, using inaccessible ‘subvocal speech’ as the emanate).      


         The notion of conformity that is only marginally applicable to non-communicative semiotic events and loosely routinized communicative semiotic events becomes central to formally covenanted or conventionalized communicative events though not to those depending on contextualization.  Conformity is the mainstay of these latter, second only to communicative intention.  Conformity to a covenant can be regarded as the limiting case of conformity to a convention. What is the form of the convention? (Cp. Lewis 1969.)


31. Given that there are :

(a) a socially interacting population whose members have inter-locking interests conducive to and promotable by similar and/or co-ordinated behaviour;

(b) a recurring problematic situation categorized as leading up to n (where n>1) equally feasible ways of negotiating it;

(c) the pressing need to similar and/or co-ordinated ways of negotiating on the part of the members and consequently to the limiting of alternatives;

a convention in favour of m ways of negotiating the recurring problem holds (where m is l or some number fairly smaller than n) to the extent that each of the following holds:

(d) every member wants and expects himself to conform if other conform;

(e) every member wants and expects others to conform if he himself conforms;

(f)  consequently every member does actually conform;

(g) consequently it is common knowledge that (d,e,f) is the case (that is, every member has reason to believe that (d,e,f) is the case and that (g) is the case).


                        In the present case the pressing need is for the communicator to select a signant efficient for alerting or reminding an addressee in respect of the signate.  The need for uniformity or near-uniformity, for absolute or near-absolute conformity, and for the common knowledge of convention is more pressing to the extent that (1) the signant is to be a fully controlled emanate; (2) the signant dispenses with alerting contiguity (deixis) or reminding resemblance (iconism) or context present at the time of the semiosis (contextualization) or salience from its ground (prominence); (3) the population is lacking in close interaction and closely interlocking interests; (4) the semiosis is signifying rather than signalling.


10.1.5. Communicative events as cultural events

To recapitulate, we have seen:

1-11, a general map of events physical, biosomatic, and biopsychic, a rudimentary cosmology so to say;

12-19, a general map of the biosocial and bioethnic dimension;

20-22, a general map of the biosocial and bioethnic dimension;

22-31, a further account of the attenuations, accentuations, and complications of semiosis in the context of the socioethnic and the cybernetic dimensions-specifically, a general map of the communicative event.


                        As we home in to the major human modes of semiosis like language, fiduciary matters, logico-mathematics, technical language, ritual-myth-poetry-iconography, ritual-law-power, we have to introduce some more pieces of conceptual machinery.  We shall do it in a schematic fashion.  A sign is a semiotic network used on a routinized signation.


32. A set of signs constitutes a sign-system to the extent that each of the following holds:

(a) there is an interpreter (or a population of socially interacting interpreters) for whom the signations hold;

(b) the signs are so collated that there is no ambivalence;

(c) the signs are so collated that there is no equivalence;

(d) the set of signates is recognized as a category.

Note: This is the principle of necessity recognized by linguists (cp. Kelkar 1964).


33. Given a sign-system, the following can also hold:

(a) one out of the set of signs may involve a null-signant (i.e. the absence of any other signant itself acts as a signant);

(b) one of the set of signs may involve the overall category : the sign-focus;

(c) there may be another sign-system (subjacent) such  that a signant of the latter cannot operate unless a signant of the former (superjacent) operates.

Examples of 32,33:


(i) Superjacent and subjacent systems




      a                             b                           c 




p                            q                            r    


Fig. 10.1 Superjacent and subjacent sign-systems


That is : a, b, c, cp, cq, cr can occur, but not p, q, or r by itself; c is the focal signant of p, q, and r.


(ii) Adjacent systems






        a                            b                            c     p                            q                            r    


Fig. 10.2 Adjacent sign-systems

That is : ap, aq, ar, bp, bq, br, cp, cq, cr, a , b, c, p, q, r can all occur.  The homeopath’s systems of symptoms are adjacent; the allopath’s systems are more apt to be arranged hierarchically as superjacent and subjacent systems.  A conventional communicative sign-system (cp. 31(c)) is an attempt to solve the problem of co-ordination (Lewis 1969).

(iii) A sign-system typically offers a bank of alternate messages.  To the extent that a semiotic event not merely signals or signifies a given signate but correspondingly signals (or signifies) the exclusion of certain other signates that might as well as have appeared in its place (cp. the notion of measure of information in information theory), all the alternate semiotic relationships constitute such a bank.  To say that the wine is not red is to say that it is ‘white’ (pale yellow); but to say that the flag is not red is to say that it may be white, black, blue, green, or whatever. Again, to say that the wine is not red is to say nothing as to whether it is still or sparkling, sweet or ‘dry’ (not sweet).  Typically a sign-system is a subjacent sign-system where certain alternate messages are ‘taken care of’ in its superjacent sign-systems.  Thus, to say that the wine is red (or not red) takes it for granted that we are not interested in finding an answer there to questions as to whether the wine is a drink, is a kind of beer, is truthful (in vino veritas!), is lugubrious, and so forth.  The statement that the present King of France is bald is vacuous at the present time, not inapposite, while the statement that France has got a bald king will be inapposite at the present time.


34. A set of semiotic events (especially with underlying routinized signations) constitutes a polarizing semiotic-event complex to the extent that each of the following holds:

(a) there is an interpreter (or a population of socially interacting interpreters) for whom the semiotic-events (and the signations if any) hold;

(b) the semiotic events so concur that there is no fusion;

(c) the semiotic events so concur  that there is no fission;

(d) the set of signate is recognized as a complex event.


35. Given a polarizing semiotic-event complex, the following can also hold:

(a) one out of the set of semiotic events may involve a null-signant;

(b) one of the set of semiotic events may involve the signate-complex – the focal sign-event so that the sign-event-complex become a complex sign-event;

(c) one out of the set of semiotic events may involve negation or a null-set as a signate;

(d) there may be another complex semiotic event such that a signant of the latter cannot operate unless a signant of the former operates.


36. A set of semiotic events (especially with underlying routinized signations) constitutes a catenated semiotic event to the extent that each of the following holds:

(a) there is an interpreter (or a population of socially interacting interpreters) for whom the semiotic events (and the signations if any) hold;

(b) the semiotic events are catenated such that the signate of the earlier member is the signant of the next member in the catenation;

(c) there is an initial member of the catenation whose signant is not the signate of any other sign-event and a final member of the catenation whose signate is not the signant of any other sign-event.



(i)         type                  token =


                                                                        token =

             type                     token



(ii)        token                type =


                                                                        type =                 

            token                token


(iii)       use of token                  token  =

            use of a

            token                    token           


(iv)              word-literal       - metaphoric or

signate                metonymic signate

(v)        sentence – primary                    - displaced

                             signate                     signate

                                                            say, request

(vi)       text – conventional                    -stylized

         signate, say                      signate,

         straight forward               say, poem



(vii)      vehicle  - message as

signate =

message as

signant                      -ultimate



(viii)      sentence type signifying-sentence token signalling -  use of sentence token (Strawson 1950:section II uses the terminology ‘a sentence -  a use of a sentence- an utterance of a sentence’ for this catenation.)

(ix)       Common term –diagnostic characteristics – defining characteristics – object referred to

(x)        common term –abstract –object –types –object-token token

(xi)       text –literal meaning –allegorical meaning –moral insight

(xii)      relaying signant –original signant –original signate

(xiii)      substitute signant –original signant –original signate


37.  Given two sign-systems, one can be the object-sign-system and the other the meta-sign-system to the extent that each of the following hold good:

(a) the meta-sign-system is superjacent tot he object-sign-system through the category sign;

(b) several of the meta-sign-signates are the member of the object-sign-system







      true                        false                              cited   




the earth is round                                 the earth is flat    


Fig 10.3 Meta-sign-systems and object-sign-systems


38. Given two sign-systems, one can be the enacting-sign-system and the other the enacted-sign-system to the extent that each of the following holds:

(a) the enacting-sign-system is superjacent to the enacted-sign-system through the category sign;

(b) for several of the enacting-sign-relationships, it is the case that each signals, when combined with the category sign, a token of the enacted-sign-types;

(c) the category signant signifies the enactive intention-type





      1 pass                       Redouble                   One Spades....             Bridge Call      




                                                            A Pass                                              A Redouble



Fig 10.4 Enacting sign-systems and enacted sign-systems

39.  A set of semiotic events (especially) with underlying routinized signation) constitutes a radiating semiotic-even-complex tot he extent that each of the following holds:

(a)    there is an interpreter for whom all the semiotic events (and the signations) hold or there are a set of interpreters (for example the addressee, the communicator, and some others in a communicative vent) between whom the semiotic events (and the signations) hold;

(b)   the set of signants is recognized as a complex object;

(c)    the signates are non-identical though there may be an overlap.


40.  Given a radiating semiotic-event-complex, the following can also hold:


(a)    one of the set of semiotic events may be covert to some of the interpreters in accordance with the intention of the communicator or with the approval of some of the interpreters.

(b)    one of the set of semiotic events may involve the signant-complex itself-the focal semiotic-event so that the semiotic-event-complex becomes a complex semiotic-event  complex becomes a complex semiotic event;

(c)     each or most of the signates participate in a sign-system (its universe).

Examples of 39, 40:

(i)      a pun (different from ambiguity);

(ii) irony, including dramatic irony, Socratic irony, a practical joke, unintended humour;

(iii) a richly complex poem;

(iv) self-announcing and self-effacing ciphers;

(v) a message is very often the focal semiotic event of a radiating semiotic-event-complex, the constitutive semiotic events belong to their universes;



message-the occurrence of the emanate over the channel from a universe of admissible emanate occurrences (apposite: intelligible to an interpreter, tenable to a communicator, coherent to both)

message-the subject-matter from a universe of admissible  referents (apposite: verifiable to an interpreter, sense-satisfying tot he communicator, referring to both; synthetic if universe-sensitive, analytic if universe-neutral; deictic if communicative context-sensitive, displaceable if communicative-context-neutral) message-the communicative context from a universe of admissible communicative contexts (apposite: impressive to an interpreter, expressive to the communicator, felicitous to the addressee and communicator; personal if communicative-context-sensitive, impersonal if communicative-context neutral) message-the totality of meanings (a polarized complex semiotic event to the observer)

            The appositeness-score of the message need not be the same on all counts. In the understanding of this complex, the problem of priorities can be solved by postulating a spiral procedure.  If we name the three constitutive semiotic-event-complexes as the message-form, the message-sense, and the message-purport, we begin with form, then spiral through sense, purport, and then continue the round with form, and so on.  At each step other than the first, we make use of all that we have learnt up to that point to gain an insight into the particular constituent in hand.


41. Any semiotic event involving a sign-system, a complex sign, a sign catenation, a meta-sign-system, an enacting-sign-system is less primitive than a comparable semiotic event lacking such involvement.

42. A semiotic event (or an underlying routinized signation) is symbolic to the extent that it is less primitive.

43. In semiotic events and signs of certain kinds,

(a)    the signant is an abstract object: type-token, null-signant (33(a), 35(a)), categorizing-categorized, enacted semiotic event;

(b)   the signate is an abstract object: semiotic event in the signifying mode (e.g. the fact that a true statement is about), token-type, focal sign is a sign-system, a complex semiotic event, meta-sign semiotic event, enacting semiotic event;

(c)    both the signant and the signate are abstract objects: constituent semiotic events in a communicative event other than the first degree underlying semiotic event, either the signant or the signate or both in many catenated semiotic events.


What is the ontic status of the abstract objects referred to in 43? Are some of them I-events of a special kind? Are some of them bioethnic E-events of a special kind? Is the distinction between existence and subsistence to be discredited? I do not know. Perhaps abstractness is a matter of degree.  In some sense the signate of the signant William Shakespeare is also an abstract object though this abstract object has a location in the space-time neighbourhood of the interpreter.


            What I have done so far is to offer an account of the form of semiosis in relation to the universe in which it occurs and thus to provide ourselves with a reasonably sophisticated conceptual apparatus to approach even the major human modes of semioss.  In so doing I have managed to refrain from using the overworked term 'symbol'.


            What I have not done is to offer a natural history of semiosis in terms of the biosomatic, the biopsychic, the biosocial, and the bioethnic mechanisms underlying semiosis.  I have not, for example, tacled the problem alluded to in 24(b) (ii); I have not said whether the progression from primitive to symbolic has a historical significance; I have not taken a position on the question whether the apparatus of categories is individually acquired and socially ratified or socially acquired and individually ratified or both or neither (being largely innate).


            Again, what I have not done is to take up positions on the major philosophical questions that arise at various points- the ontology of the various entities, the

epistemology of the study of signs, and so forth.


            Finally, what I have not done is to apply the apparatus to some of the more interesting details- the form and history of the linguistic sign-system, the problem of the semiotics of quotation, citation, allusion, paraphrase, translation, and the like, the semiotics of poetry, fiction, myth and the like, the semiotics of technical formalisms, the semiotics of style, of perception, of abstractions in thinking, of the sentential moods, and so on.




So far we have looked almost exclusively at one of the major kinds of bioethnic events: namely, semiotic events.  In so doing we could not refrain for long getting ourselves involved with other major kinds.  The communicative event is built around the communicative intention and the enacted sign-event around the enactive intention.  Both of them thus involve an interlacing of semiosis with praxis. (Philosophers have recently been developing theories of action or praxis.) And of course through all semiotic events especially those in the signalling mode and those based on categorizings-the thread of gnosis runs.  (Theories of meaning have always been within hailing distance from theories of knowledge.) In pursuing this line of thinking further, we shall soon face the central bioethnic question: Given that man does not live by bread alone as Jesus reminded Satan (Matthew 4:4 quoting  Deuteronomy 8:3), what else does he live by? More pertinently, how else does he live? In what other ways does man maintain his dialogue with the universe?


10.2.1 The forms of life


The  offer  a schema :


44.  The distinctive modes in which the human organism negotiates the universe (the environment and the organism itself included) can be divided into two main groups :

(a) primarily concerned with the interface

(i) E-S-I sequences:

gnosis: insight, cognition, memories

aesthesis: appreciation, evaluation, sentiments

(ii) I-A-E sequences :

praxis: play, work, strategies

gnosis: creation, production, figures

(b) serving and directing the foregoing:

semiosis : signalling, signifying

cathexis: love, loyalty

diopsis : predilection, stance

Note: The choice of the Greek terms is a conscious tribute tot he Greeks, the way one uses the terms 'volt' or 'Newton's Law'.


45. Concerning the first four (44(a)), one may point out that with each of these there are two questions:

(a)    Gnosis: What is right? What are the grounds?

Cognition proceeds from the latter to the former.

Evaluation proceeds from the latter to the former.


(b)    Aesthesis: What is right? What are the grounds?

Appreciation proceeds from the former to the latter

Evaluation proceeds from the latter to the former.


(c)    Praxis : What is right? What is the payoff?

Work proceeds from the latter to the former.

Play proceeds from the former to the latter.


(d)   Poesis : What is right? What is the payoff?

Production proceeds from the latter to the former.

Creation proceeds from the former to the latter.


Note (i): It should be clear by now, if not earlier, that it is not as if gnosis is to aesthesis what praxis is to poesis. The proportions are on the following lines :

(a) Gnosis (E:S-I): Aesthesis (E-S:I)

      =Work-Play (I-A:E): Intention-Imagination (I:A-E)

(b) Praxis: Poesis

      = Intake-Output in Gnosis-Aesthesis: Processing in Gnosis-Aesthesis


Note(ii):A seer assimilates cognition to insight, and evaluation to appreciation; a philosopher the opposite.  Superstition eliminates cognition; pedantry the opposite. Vulgarity eliminates evaluation; philistinism the opposite. A saint assimilates work to play, production to creation; an artist assimilates play to work, creation to production.  Alienation  eliminates either work and production (Bohemia) or play and creation (Suburbia).  (Many would-be Marxists suffer from Subrbia!)


46. The form of the first four:

(a) Gnosis: Intake: Sensing, Attending  to

Primary processing (labelling and storing): Perception, Conception Secondary processing (computing general possibilities and improbabilities) : Intuition, Model-building

Tertiary processing (computing specific probabilities and improbabilities), the output being Judgements, Problem –solutions

(b) Aesthesis : Input : nature, production, creation

Primary processing : Sensibility

Secondary processing : Exploration

Output : Positive/Negative attitude-formation

(c) Praxis: Agent performs Act achieving or failing to achieve Goal overcoming Resistance/Opposition and utilizing Instrumentlity Assistance as given in the Scene (cp. Burke 1945).

(d) Poesis: Maker tranforms Material into Object in a certain Manner in the given Circumstances. The Material may offer Resistance and Manner may involve Instrumentality.


47. The form of the last three:

(a) Semiosis : Interpreter reads the Signate into the Signant given the Ground.

(b) Cathexis ;Object: Person, Object, the Universe of Person, the Universe of Objects, Value

The Subject gratuitously /routinely shows Love/Hate, Loyalty/Enmity.


In Love/Loyalty the Subject achieves Intimacy/Involvement.

Note: Charisma (of the Person who stands for the Universe of persons) and Misanthropy are forms of Cathexis.  Alienation is the absence of minimal cathexis.

(c) Diopsis: The Subject makes the basic Decisions as to: What is Right? What Grounds/Payoff to look for? What comes first?


48. The Cardinal Dioptic Orientations (in terms of which the other orientations could be located in a Universe of Orientations) are the following:

(a) 'natural orientations:

(i)     environment;

(ii) inner urges.

(iii) residues of previous encounters (mores);


(b) attempts to transcend 'natural' orientations:

(iv) assimilation of inner urges to environment;

(v) assimilation of environment to inner urges.


49. Each of the five cardinal dioptic orientations can be characterized in respect of the following :

(a)  What is the cardinal principle of Order?

(Order can release of bind Freedom.)

(b)  What is the cardinal principle of Freedom?

(Freedom can create or destroy Order.)

(c)  What is the cardinal social order?

(d)  What is the cardinal behaviour prototype?

(e) What are some popular labels available in the modern Western civilization? In the ancient Indian civilization?




(a) (i)    environment binds; objectivity principle

(ii)         environment releases; opportunity principle

(iii)        Open Society : Urban: Policies

(iv)       Adult: Ego: Experience

(v)         Realism; Artha; Rājasa


(b)  (i)     inner urges bind: creativity principle

(ii)          inner urges release : spontaneity principle

(iii)         Open Society : Pastoral : Licences

(iv)        Child: Id : Innocence

(v)          Romanticism; Kāma; Tāmas

(c)  (i)      mores bind: righteousness principle

(ii)       mores release: security principle

(iii)         Closed Society : Rural : Rituals

(iv)        Parent : Super-Ego : Authority

(v)          Medievalism; Grihastha-Darma; Sāttvika

(d)   (i)     maturity principle

(ii)          critical detachment principle

(iii)         Closed Society : Urban : Laws

(iv)        Adult-Parent : the Authority after Experience

(v)          Classicism; Nāgara-Dharma; Rājasa

(e)    (i)      involvement

(ii)          agony and ecstasy

(iii)         circle of love

(iv)        Adult-Child : the Innocence after Experience

(v)          Mysticism : Moksa; Sāttvika


            Obviously this sketch (44-50) is the merest beginning.  If the first part of this paper is regarded as an expansion of 47 (a), one can gauge how much remains to be done in respect of Gnosis, Aesthesis, Praxis, Poesis, Cathexis, and Diopsis even to offer anything like the prolegomena to the understanding of cultures.


10.2.2 The underlying conceptions of human culture


What I  propose to do here instead is to indicate why I consider this way of looking at culture more fruitful.  To begin with, I wish to register here certain dissatisfactions:

(1)  I am broadly in sympathy with Kroeber's (1949) doctrine of culture as the superorganic and our of sympathy with assimilating the cultural to the social.  Towards the end of the first section of this paper I have said that I have not taken a position on the question whether the apparatus of categories is individually acquired and socially ratified or socially acquired and individually ratified or both or neither (being largely innate).  I fell that the study of culture should not be cast in a mould that prejudges the issue one way or the other.  (A similar prejudging is to be seen in saying social sciences when one means human sciences.)

(2) The approach proposed here will be a better meeting ground fro the natural history approach to culture and the humanistic concern for culture shared by historians, philosophers, historians of ideas, literary and art critics, religious and moral ideologues, and the like.  The present condition in which psychologists tend to leave the arts alone and sociologists and anthropologists leave love and mysticism alone and in which the humanists have little use of the human scientists' insights is clearly unsatisfactory.  The present approach, among other things, is better calculated to let in the penetrating wind of modern philosophical analysis through the study of human sciences.

(3) The study of a culture can be endocentric, i.e. in terms of the categories provided by the culture itself, or excentric, i.e. reductive to categories not necessarily ratified by the culture.  Both are necessary for a full understanding.  What are the possibilities available and the ones actually availed of? Which are the ones sadly missed?



(a) Endocentric:

(i)                  in terms of the specific local culture;

(ii)                in terms of the Great Tradition of the inclusive civilization if any.


The only cultures to get the benefit or such study by modern scholars are those in the modern Western civilization.  A truly endocentric description should put calligraphy under fine arts if that is where the 'natives' put it; should describe Hindu culture, say, in terms of Dharms, Artha, Kāma, Moks**a, and the like rather than in terms of the rubrics borrowed from the Modern West.


(b) Excentric :

(i)                  in terms of some other culture of civilization;

(ii)                (1) natural history description with minimal interpretation;

(2) historical chronicle with minimal interpretation ;

(iii)               in terms designed to uncover the biotic underpinnings in the broadest sense;

(iv)              in formal universalistic terms.


Out of these the first is reductive in the bad sense unless undertaken in the spirit of clear-sighted comparison.  I have already indicated that, while non-Western cultures have had the doubtful benefit of this approach, modern Western culture has never been looked at this way.


The second is of course to be credited with the monuments of ethnography and antiquarian studies coming down from the nineteenth century.


The psychologists, the ethnologists turning their attention tot he human animal, and the dialectical materialists have carried out their reductive exercises-chiefly on modern Western Culture-yielding a harvest of penetrating insights into man the unknown and painful distortions of man the known.


Finally, the last approach has made itself felt in modern linguistic analysis, modern economic analysis, the structuralist (inspired by linguistic analysis) and the functionalist studies of portions of various preliterate cultures.  Modern analytical philosophers have made notable analyses of modern Western cultural categories – practically unheeded by the human scientists. Psychologists have not learnt much from the economists' analysis of demand.


The sketch presented in this section of the paper is largely an invitation to give the formal approach its due.  Having registered my disappointments, let me briefly indicate the possibilities of a full-scale formal approach.


(1) While the separate human sciences have not interpenetrated as much as one would wish in spite of the interdisciplinary seminars and research projects, the formal approach may permit us to speak of the economy of language, the language of the economy, and so forth not as mere decorative verbal flourishes but in more rigorous terms.  Certain notions such as style, prophylactic, remedial, palliative, and compensatory praxis, information flow, secrecy, privacy, and esoteric communication recur in various segments of culture and call for an elucidation at the general level.

(2) I have already spoken of the interlacing of semiosis with gnosis and praxis; the study of various such interlacings should serve to throw new light on hitherto poorly defined matters such as myth art, morality, education, polity, and the like as also on hitherto poorly understood interrelations of the canonical segments of culture.

(3) I have already spoken of the need to offer a natural history of semiosis in terms of the biosomatic, the biopsychic, the biosocial, and the bioethnic underpinnings.  Having done that and having done the same for gnosis, aesthesis, praxis, poesis, cathexis, and diopsis one can then come back tot he study of society, culture, and human history with greater confidence.

(4) One can do a comparative study of the endocentric categories provided by different local cultures and great civilizations.  The present approach suitably developed along the lines indicated just now may yield a revealing metalangauge for such a comparative study.




How do we use phrases of the type X-ology of Y when we use them carefully? We must of course allow for the fact that the names for X and X-ology often happen to be the same-mythology, chemistry, history, grammar, politics, even psychology (as in 'I can't fathom his psychology' which is ambiguous). Some typical examples will be: the chemistry of acids; the zoology of arthropoda; the physics of heavenly bodies; the chemistry of plants. Clearly, before we have a right to speak of the X-ology of Y, either Y must be a species of X or it makes sense of some other sort to say the X of Y.  Normally, one would expect, therefore, that the admissibility of the phrase the X-ology of Y will preclude that of the Y-ology of X.  If this expectation is correct, how do we account for pairs such as the following?

(a)    the art of politics

the politics of art

(b)   the psychology of language

the language of the psyche

the language of psychology

the linguistics of psychology (how else does one interpret 'psycholinguistics' when it is not merely a misleading abbreviation of 'the psychology of language'?)

(c)    the poetry of grammar

the grammar of poetry


            I do not propose to sort out the admissible from the inadmissible in these examples though I may comment in passing that this question has to do with the physical world, body, mind problems. I merely wish to alert the reader that care is necessary in coining such expressions as these:

the semiosis of culture

semiosis in culture

the semiotics of culture

the cultural facts of semiosis

the ethnology of semiosis


I think that it is admissible to speak both of the semiotics of culture (correlatively: semiosis in culture) and the ethnology of semiosis (correlatively: semiosis as a cultural fact). I further think that, for a fruitful exploring of the two, a formal analysis of both semiosis (taken up in sections 10.1.2, 10.1.4, 10.1.5) and culture (on the lines indicated in section 10.2.1) is a prerequisite.

            Having done this we can then proceed to divide cultural facts in either of the following manners:


51. Cultural facts:

(a)    bioethnic facts proper : the central facts of gnosis, aesthesis, praxis, poesis, semiosis, cathexis, diopsis (section 10.2.1);

(b)    their institutionalization, i.e. their biopsychic and biosocial envelope;

(c)    their biopsychic, biosocial, biosomatic, physical substratum (consider sections 10.1.1, 10.1.3).


52. Sociocultural facts about semiosis:

(a)    semiotic events together with such gnostic, aesthetic, practice, poetic, cathectic, dioptic facts as are subservient to them – all these constituting the semiotic apparatus of a culture;

(b)   the deployment of the semiotic apparatus in serving and directing each of the canonical segments of culture such as science, technology of capital and consumer goods, ideology, dogma, myth, ritual, magic, art, craft, games, rapture and conviviality, economy;

(c)    the deployment of the semiotic apparatus in each of the canonical segments of the societal fabric such as role and status, modes of social transaction, relationships and groups, social organization, instrumentation, and control (polity, education, morality, manners, crime and deviancy, reinforcement, incentive and disincentive, labour and management.


So, to speak of the semiosis of culture is to speak of 52(b) and to speak of the ethnology of semiosis is to deal with 52(a).  The science of language in the large sense will be a branch of the ethnology of semiosis.


            The science of language can be studied at any of the three levels indicated under


(a)          Linguistics proper where the explanations sought are primarily semiotic explanations (Why is the singular the unmarked member of the category of number?) or explanations of semiotic facts (What are the semiotic consequences of the linearity of the vehicle?  Why are negation, proper names, 'I' and 'you' linguistic universals?).  This applies equally to the analysis of single languages, and their historical and correlative comparison.


Note: By 'correlative comparison of languages' we understand the kind of comparison that yields language universals and types and not language families and areas.


(b)   Institutional linguistics where the explanations sought are primarily cultural explanations (Why does language A borrow from language B but not vice versa?)

(c)    Substratum linguistics where the explanations sought are primarily biophysical explanations (Why are vocal sounds the common vehicle?  Why do sounds change? Why does language change more slowly and steadily than the rest of culture?  How did language originate?)


            Finally, semiotic analysis can be a valuable research tool for reconstructing cultural history and for the descriptive analysis of culture.  It can streamline methods such as the field interview, the questionnaire, the census, the study of written, inscribed, and mechanically recorded documents.  It can render more transparent the covert categories of culture and the societal fabric.




Auden, W.H. (1941a), 'Criticism in a mass society'  in Stauffer, D.A. (ed.),

The intent of the Critic, Princeton,  N.J., Princeton University Press, 1941, and reprinted in Grigson, Geoffrey, ed., (1948), 1-13.


Auden, W.H. (1941b), New Year Letter, London, Faber & Faber.


Black, M. (ed.) (1965), Philosophy in America, Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press; London, Allen & Unwin.


Burke, K. (1945), The Grammar of Motives, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice Hall.


Flew, A. (ed.) (1956), Essays in Conceptual Analysis, London, Macmillan.


Fodor, J.A. (1965), 'Could meaning be an rm?' Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 4, 73-81 (reproduced in Steinberg and Jakobovits (1971: 558-68)).


Gandhi, R. (1974). Presuppositions of Human Communication, Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press.


Grice, H.P. (1957), 'Meaning', Philosophical Review, 46, 377-88.


Grigson, Geoffrey, (ed.) (1948), The Mint (an occasional serial), No.2, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Kelkar, A.R. (1964), 'A reexamination of some of the fundamental properties of language', Indian Linguistics, 25, 83-92.


Kelkar, A.R. (1969a), 'The being of a poem', Foundations of Language, 5, 17-33.

Kelkar, A. R. (1969b), 'On aesthesis', Humanist Review, 2, 211-28.


Kroeber, A.L. (1955), 'History of anthropological thought' in Thomas (ed.) (1955).


Lewis, D.K. (1969), Convention: A Philosophical Study, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.


Packard, V. (1957), The Hidden Persuaders, New York, David McKay.


Searle, J.R(1965), 'What is a speech act?' in Black (1965 : 221-39), reproduced in Searle (1971 : 39-53).


Searle, J.R., ed. (1971), The Philosophy of Language, London, Oxford University Press.


Slotkin, J.S. (1950), Social Anthropology: The Science of Human Society and Culture, New York, Macmillan (A classis that never made it in spite of Kroeber's admonition, 1955 : 305-8.)


Steinberg, D.D. and Jakobovits, L.A., eds (1971), Semantics: An Interdisciplinary Reader in Philosophy, Linguistics and Psychology, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Strawson, P.F. (1950), 'On referring', Mind, NS 59, 320-44, reproduced in Flew (1956: 21-52), and Strawson (1971:1-27).


Strawson, P.F. (1964), 'Intention and convention i speech acts', The Philosophical Review, 73, reproduced in Strawson (1971:149-69).


Strawson, P.F. (1971), Logico-linguistic Papers, London, Methuen.


Thomas, W.L. jr. (ed.) (1955), Current Anthropology, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.


Zipf, P. (1967), 'On H.P. Grice's account of meaning', Analysis, 28, 1-8, reproduced in Steinberg and Jakobovits (1971:60-5).




*A considerably revised and enlarged version undertaken when the author held a Seniro Fellowship of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India has been published in the form of a book entitled Prolegomena to an Understanding of Semiosis and Culture (Mysore : Central Institute of Indian Languages, 1980).The version that is being presented here is a slightly revised version of the paper originally presented at the symposium.  In addition to published sources, the author has benefited from personal discussions with Ashok Gangadean and Ramchandra Gandhi.  The paper was originally presented at a symposia on Semiotics of Culture and Language, at Burg Wartonstein, Austria, August 1975 in the auspicious of Wenner-O Foundation for Anthropological Sciences, New York.  The preceeding were published in 2 volumes, ed Robin P. Fawcett et al., London :Frances Pinter 1984. The Present paper was in vol. 2 p 101-134.