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[Xmca-l] Re: semiotics / language



It's a very good question, and like most questions, the answer is not
really yes or no, but "~ish". That is, the link between wording and meaning
is natural-ish, but the link between wording and sounding is
conventional-ish.

It seems to me that the structure of wording is to a very large degree
functionally determined. So for example nouns take number but not tense,
and verbs take tense (they sometimes take number too, but the fact that
they don't always and the fact that they do it in such a half-hearted way,
e.g. the 's' on the third person singular, suggests that number is not an
essential function for verbs). Similarly, imperatives can't take the third
person. Why not? There's a good functional reason (you have to talk to
people when you want goods and services from them). That means that it's
natural.

Now, Raymond Williams used to really object to Halliday using the term
natural at this point. Here's an example of one of their public
confrontations on this point (and you can see, in Halliday's response, why
I think he is an exceptionally nice guy).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjlS66XJ1Bs

When I first met Halliday in Japan I made a very similar mistake, but now I
think Halliday is right. I think that the wording/meaning  interface is
natural in the sense that for example legs are naturally evolved for
walking and not for flying, and swim bladders in fish are naturally evolved
for surfacing and diving and not for breathing oxygen. Sure, we've got some
conventional aspects, but these are largely exceptions that prove the
rule:, e.g. when we use statements or questions to give commands and
commands to ask questions (Tell me about...). The fact that these are
grammatical metaphors, non-canonical uses of wording, shows that the basic
interface between meaning and wording is natural. Imperatives have
naturally evolved to get goods and services (and so they focus on the
process of giving and getting and not on the participants which are taken
for granted), declaratives have naturally evolved to give information (and
so they include more context than commands), and interrogatives have
naturally evolved to get information (and so they have an incompleteness
that is reflected in their modality and in their intonation).

(Note that there are also natural aspects of the sounding/wording interface
as well--intonation is one. The way we sound angry when we are angry and
sad when we are sad is natural, but the way we sound nice in a language may
not be.)

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
wrote:

> David,
> I'm curious as to why you say l'arbitraire does not apply to the line that
> separates (connects?) wording and meaning?
> -greg
>
> On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 6:12 AM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> > Thanks, Andy. I am a critical fan of both men. Your interpretation of
> > Barthes I recognize like an garrulous old friend who likes to give
> > outlandish layers of meaning to perfectly normal, commonsense insights:
> > semiotics is an overgeneralization of linguistics that is the exclusive
> > preserve of well-tenured linguists. Maybe if poor old Roland had simply
> had
> > a formal, set-theoretic way of understanding the relationship he would
> have
> > been paying more attention to iconicity on his way home from the cinema
> and
> > wouldn't have gotten hit by that laundry truck.
> >
> > Saussure is a little different. I too have struggled with his crude,
> > associative psychology, his war on history, and above all his concept of
> > "l'arbitraire". But in my dotage I have made some peace with the latter.
> > First of all, it's one of those false friends they warn you about in
> French
> > class;it only means "arbitrary" in English; in French it really just
> means
> > "conventional"; that is, cultural. Secondly, it's just a way of saying
> that
> > a meaning can, in theory, have any sound at all in a given language, and
> > this is what makes all languages equal in their meaning potential--so in
> > meaning potential all cultures are intellectually equivalent, and Mike's
> > problem of whether college professors think like children is solved.
> > Thirdly, it it only applies at a single point--the line that separates
> > wording from sounding, not the line that separates wording from meaning.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Macquarie University
> >
> >
> > On Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 7:59 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> >
> > > David, I am no fan of either Barthes nor Saussure, but I interpret this
> > > odd claim somewhat like this: Barthes asks you not to see the
> > relationship
> > > in a formal, set-theoretic way, but rather in terms of activities and
> how
> > > we use and understand them. We come to reflect on Semiotics as beings
> > > already imbued with, indeed produced by language; we learn its
> principles
> > > through language and appropriate them as a special activity as
> linguistic
> > > beings. Semiotics is a specialised activity, which some linguists
> engage
> > in.
> > >
> > > Andy
> > >
> > > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > > Andy Blunden
> > > http://home.mira.net/~andy
> > > http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> > > On 17/06/2016 8:34 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> > >
> > >> ...
> > >> I can't agree with the Barthesian inversion of Saussure's location of
> > >> linguistics as part of semiotics. Semiotics and linguistics both deal
> > with
> > >> meaning. But semiotics includes types of meaning which are not
> > linguistic.
> > >> Can you think of any linguistic meaning which is not semiotic? I
> can't.
> > >>
> > >> David Kellogg
> > >> Macquarie University
> > >>
> > >>
> > >>
> > >
> >
>
>
>
> --
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
>