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Session 11 Moving out of cultural semiotics…?. Where do you draw the boundary of the concept communication itself ? Charles F. Hockett (1916-2000) Communicative.

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Presentation on theme: "Session 11 Moving out of cultural semiotics…?. Where do you draw the boundary of the concept communication itself ? Charles F. Hockett (1916-2000) Communicative."— Presentation transcript:

1 Session 11 Moving out of cultural semiotics…?

2 Where do you draw the boundary of the concept communication itself ? Charles F. Hockett ( ) Communicative behaviour can be defined as those acts by which one organism triggers another. Dell Hymes ( ) To define communication as the triggering of a response is to make the term so nearly equivalent to behaviour and interaction in general as to lose its specific value as a scientific and moral conception. If the strict ethnographic approach requires us to extend the concept of communication to the boundaries granted it by the participants of a culture, it also makes it necessary to restrict it to those boundaries.

3 The ontological primacy of the sign: does communication presuppose signs, or do signs presuppose communication? We should not start by taking for granted that signs are the prerequisites of communication, but treat communication as including all processes in which human activities are contextually integrated by means of signs. The starting-point, therefore, should not be: what does the word communication mean in such and such culture/language? Rather our starting-point should be: what general definition of communication can best accommodate the whole range of our, i.e. human, communicational experience? A culture-neutral definition of communication cannot be based on the assumption that signs have invariant (non-contextual) meaning. It is not that only certain kinds of behaviour can be defined as communicative, i.e. because they are compatible with the definition of the term communication. It should be the other way round: any two activities that are integrated presuppose contextualization, i.e. the creation of signs. If signs are created and not given in advance, then the sign communication cannot be given in advance, either. In other words, the sign communication itself is a created sign, i.e. the result of contextualization.

4 Thomas A. Sebeok ( ) Biosemioses between bacterial entities started more than one thousand million years ago and are thus at the root of all communication. Bacterial communication is exclusively chemical. Both in form and as to variety of their communicative transactions, animals are the most diverse of living creatures. All living things communicate nonverbally. Only homo sapiens communicates both verbally and nonverbally. The term language should not be used to designate any nonverbal communicative device. There is no such thing as ape language. Max Müller ( ) Language is our Rubicon, and no brute will dare to cross it.

5 Must Monkeys Mean? (Harris 1984) Is there any place for meaning in the monkeys signalling systems? One cannot approach the question from the starting-point of the Saussurean linguistic system. The linguistic sign cannot be the measurement of whether meaning is involved in primate communication, or whether it is just a matter of stimulus-response. We have no plausible alternative but to use an anthropomorphic conceptual framework in our analyses of animal communication. We cannot somehow avoid the risks of anthropomorphism – whatever they may be – by trying to talk about primate signals in a terminology which draws no implicit comparison between human and animal communication. Any such attempt must be self-defeating. The task of describing what primate signals mean is already difficult enough, without depriving ourselves of the most useful conceptual tools we have for the purpose. So the investigator appears to be in a predicament. Although he knows it is not reasonable to assume that he is dealing with a communication system structured like a human language, in order to get his semantic description of that system off the ground at all he is obliged to look for meanings of the kind that will translate, however crudely, into human terms.

6 The important point to realize here is that when an observer assigns a meaning to a particular primate signal, say alarm, this should not be construed as implying that if the monkey did speak English, he would agree with the meaning-assignment alarm, or that if humans were to assign the same meaning as the monkeys assign to this call, we, the humans, would assign the meaning alarm to it; what it should be taken to mean is that the monkeys behaviour on hearing the signal is comparable to the way human beings might act if they received a signal to which they assigned the meaning alarm. In short, it is the observer who attributes meaning to the monkeys behaviour, not the monkey.

7 Apes, Language and the Human Mind (Savage-Rumbaugh, Shanker & Taylor, 1998) What Kanzi and company tell us is not that bonobos too are by nature potential language users "just like us". On the contrary, it is not until the hapless monkey's world is artificially restructured by direct human control that the monkey can be made to begin to grasp (in human judgement) some of the rather complex ways it is possible to use vocal sound to integrate other activities. As to what monkeys "think" of this form of oppression, the world is still waiting for a monkey to "say". Kanzi & Sue Savage- Rumbaugh (1946-) When I observe a bonobo, it is as though I am standing at the precipice of the human soul, peering deep into some distant part of myself. Kanzi can read my facial expressions as well as, if not better than, any human being I have ever known. When Kanzi presses a symbol on his keyboard, it is like he is "talking", "saying something", "naming" objects. Even when he does nothing, he quietly notes everything I say. My only question to you is: what is your philosophy of language, or respecively, what theory of communication do you subscribe to?

8 biosemiotics Jakob von Uexkuell ( ) The question of meaning is the crucial one to all living beings. There is a comprehensive world at hand, from which each animal can carve out its specific habitat. Each animal moves within its habitat and confronts a number of objects, with which it has a narrower or wider relationship. Animals can never enter into a neutral relationship with objects. That relationship is determined by their Umwelt. Each species (including homo sapiens) assigns a different (species-related) meaning to an object in its Umwelt. Imagine how a flower-stem can play the role of an ornament (in the Umwelt of a girl picking flowers), of a path (in the Umwelt of an ant using the stem as an ideal path), of an extraction-point (in the Umwelt of a cicada- larva that uses the stem to extract its sap), of a morsel of food (in the Umwelt of a cow that grasps the stem and flower to eat it).


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