Symbolic Language and Indexical Cries: A Semiotic Reading of Lucretius 5.1028-90


Lucretius distinguishes between animal vocalization (uoces ciere) and human language (res uoce notare) in ways that may be called "semiotic": animal vocalization is indexical or symptomatic, i.e., automatic or involuntary signification of things or emotions immediately present, while human language is fully symbolic, i.e., a voluntary signification using arbitrary signs. Lucretius is thus able to compare animals and humans (1030-40, 1056-81) in that the semiosis practiced by each group, although very different semiotically, is natural to that group. This reading also helps to clarify the complex relationship between Lucretius' and Epicurus' accounts of language origins.