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Handbook of Semiotics

Winfried Nöth

Publication Year: 1990

"This is the most systematic discussion of semiotics yet published." -- Choice

"A bravura performance." -- Thomas Sebeok

"Nöth's handbook is an outstanding encyclopedia that provides first-rate information on many facets of sign-related studies, research results, and applications." -- Social Sciences in General

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Advances in Semiotics

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pp. ix-xii

A handbook with the ambitious objective of dealing with a vast field of research ranging from A(esthetics) to Z(ooethology) may be excused for beginning with a few apologetic remarks on the design of such a daring undertaking. ...

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pp. 3-8

In Walter Abish's piece of experimental prose entitled Ardor/Awe/Atrocity, in a passage under the heading "Zoo76/Zodiac77/Zero78," one character, upon announcing his marriage, tells his friend: "She's very bright and attractive. She's got a Ph.D. in semiotics. Her father is in oil" (1977: 57). Is this heroine an expert in an unusually ...

PART I. History and Classics of Modern Semiotics

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History of Semiotics

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pp. 11-38

In spite of the increasing number of contributions to many of its branches, it is still true that "the history of semiotics as a whole yet remains to be written," as Morris observed (1946: 335; cf. Deely 1982: 7, Schmitter 1983: 3). One of the problems of semiotic historiography is the uncertainty of its field. While semiotic ideas on the nature of signs and meaning were developed ...

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pp. 39-47

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914; pronounced "purse") was early recognized as "one of the great figures in the history of semiotics" and as "the founder of the modern theory of signs" (Weiss &: Burks 1945: 383). A universal genius in many sciences, Peirce, who was largely ignored by his contemporaries, is now unanimously acclaimed as America's ...

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pp. 48-55

Charles William Morris (1901-1979) is a "classic of semiotics" (Posner 1981), whose influence on the development of the history of semiotics was decisive in the 1930s and 1940s. With roots in the semiotics of Peirce, George H. Mead's (1934) social behaviorism and symbolic interaction theory (d. Posner 1981), American pragmatism (d. Morris 1970 and Eschbach ...

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pp. 56-63

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is the undisputed founder of modern linguistics (d, e.g., Lyons 1968: 38). Moreover, the basic principles of his theory of language have profoundly influenced the development of structuralism. The importance of Saussure's work in the history of semiotics, however, has received a mixed evaluation. ...

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pp. 64-73

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is the undisputed founder of modern linguistics (d, e.g., Lyons 1968: 38). Moreover, the basic principles of his theory of language have profoundly influenced the development of structuralism. The importance of Saussure's work in the history of semiotics, however, has received a mixed evaluation. The core of Saussure's contribution to semiotics ...

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pp. 74-76

Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) was one of the most influential linguists of this century. Although few of his writings deal with explicitly semiotic topics, Jakobson today counts as one of the "classics of semiotics" (Krampen et a!., eds. 1981). Jakobson's contributions to semiotics and the theoretical principles of his research are discussed in many sections of this ...

PART II. Sign and Meaning

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pp. 79-91

In this handbook, the concept of sign is generally used in its broadest sense of a natural or conventional semiotic entity consisting of a sign vehicle connected with meaning. Many narrower definitions of the term sign have been given during the history of semiotics (cf. Typology 1.) The most important models of the sign are discussed ...

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Meaning, Sense, and Reference

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pp. 92-102

The meaning of meaning is a semiotic labyrinth both on theoretical and on terminological grounds. In this chapter, the term meaning will be used in a very broad sense, covering both of the two more specific dimensions of sense (or content) and reference (object or denotatum). Many semanticians, however, define the term meaning in a narrower ...

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Semantics and Semiotics

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pp. 103-106

Semantics is the study of meaning. Historically, it was one of the precursors of modern semiotics. Today it is a branch of both semiotics and linguistics. This chapter deals with trends in and directions of semantics, in particular their relationship to general semiotics. The foundations of semantics are the topic of the chapter on meaning. The section on ...

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Typology of Signs: Sign, Signal, Index

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pp. 107-114

Semioticians have not yet agreed on a general typology of signs. The problem is only partly one of finding a common terminology. Partly it is also due to the multidimensionality of the criteria on which typologies of signs can be based. Some proposals for a typology of signs are an integral part of the semiotic theory of their authors. Such proposals are discussed in ...

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pp. 115-120

Symbol is one of the most overburdened terms in the field of the humanities. In its broadest sense, symbol is a synonym of sign. In spite of the vagueness of terminology, the narrower definitions, which specify symbols as a class of signs, can be grouped into three categories: symbol as a conventional sign, symbol as a kind of iconic sign, and symbol as ...

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Icon and Iconicity

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pp. 121-127

Iconic signs, according to the classical definitions of Peirce and Morris, have a sign vehicle which is similar to their denotatum, but the validity of this criterion of similarity has frequently been questioned. Icons not only are signs of visual communication, but exist in almost any area of the semiotic field, including language (see also Metaphor, and Arbitrariness ...

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pp. 128-133

the topic of metaphor lies at the root of semiotics, both historically and analytically. Historically, there is the long tradition of theories of metaphor, which dates back to Aristotle (384–321 B.C.). Analytically, metaphors concern the study of figurative signs and also raise the more fundamental question of whether "literal" meaning is possible at all. Topics such as arbitrariness, ...

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pp. 134-144

Information in its everyday sense is a qualitative concept associated with meaning and news. However, in the theory of information, it is a technical term which describes only quantifiable aspects of messages. Information theory and semiotics have goals of similar analytic universality. Both study messages of any kind, but because of its strictly quantitative ...

III. Semiosis, Code, and the Semiotic Field

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Zoosemiotics, Ethology, and Semiogenesis

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pp. 147-167

Zoosemiotics, the study of the semiotic behavior of animals, is a transdisciplinary field of research. Situated between biology and anthropology, it investigates a domain located between nature and culture. Zoosemiotics reinterprets the age-old question of the language of animals in the light of modern linguistics and animal communication studies. ...

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Communication and Semiosis

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pp. 168-180

Communications is a key concept in semiotics and many of its neighboring disciplines. Yet, the meaning of this term is extremely diffuse. The concept is used to designate human and animal (see Zoosemiotics), direct (face-to-face) and indirect, intentional and unintentional, verbal and nonverbal, auditory, visual, and otherwise coded flows of information and thus ...

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pp. 181-191

Function is a key term in the study of texts, communications, and semiotic structures and systems. However, definitions of the term are often vague or quite divergent, ranging from a strictly formal concept to a quasi-synonym of meaning. This broad semantic spectrum is paralleled by definitions given to the term in mathematics, linguistics, and the social ...

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pp. 188-191

Magic is a form of semiosis. Its origins are closely connected with the early history of semiotics. Its semiotic structure is determined by general semiotic principles. but according to the criteria valid for normal communicative acts, magic is based on a semiotic fallacy, a misjudgment of the pragmatic effect of signs and their semantic object relations. Viewing ...

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pp. 192-197

The concept of structure has a static and a dynamic dimension. In semiotics, there are a "minimalist" and a holistic definition of the term. In the static sense, structure is often opposed to function. In the ho0listic sense, structure is closely related to the concept of system. Structure has become a basic concept in mathematics, biology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, ...

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pp. 198-205

The concept of system most generally implies the idea of elements forming an ordered whole. The relations among these elements form the structure of the system. The elements may have common features, but their systemic character appears only in their function within the system. Etymologically, the word system refers to somewhat less coherent entities. ...

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pp. 206-220

The term code was adopted as a key concept of semiotics under the influence of information theory. A large field of diverse phenomena, from phoneme systems (cf. Language 4.2) to aesthetic conventions, was soon studies under the designation of code, but this terminological expansion did not remain without criticism. The semiotic concept of code has inherited a fundamental ambiguity ...

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pp. 221-224

The semiotics of teaching and the teaching of semiotics are the two areas of research which intersect in the broader field of semiotics and education. Only a brief survey of research activities in this field can be given in this chapter. ...

PART IV. Language and Language-Based Codes

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Verbal Communication: Introduction

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pp. 227-228

The articles on verbal communication are central to the field of semiotics because language is the most highly develo0ped and culturally most important of all semiotic systems. They are necessarily incomplete because an adequate treatment of language would require a more comprehensive survey of linguistics, the science of language. There are two reasons why ...

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Language in a Semiotic Frame

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pp. 229-239

To study language in a semiotic frame is to investigate language in relation to semiotic systems in general. This investigation raises the question of the scope of linguistics in relation to semiotics. Explicitly semiotic approaches to language generally aim at some extension of the scope of linguistics. In particular, semiotics is interested in determining the features of language ...

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Arbitrariness and Motivation: The Language Sign

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pp. 240-246

"The linguistic sign is arbitrary." This thesis is Saussure's "first principle of the nature of the linguistic sign" (1916b: 67). Hockett considers arbitrariness to be a defining property of language, but traces of this feature also appear in nonlinguistic sign systems. A precursor to the Saussurean dogma of arbitrariness is the thesis of the conventionality of words. Both theories ...

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pp. 247-250

Paralinguistics is the study of vocal signals beyond (R. napá 'beside') the verbal message in the narrower sense. This is why some scholars classify paralinguistics as a branch of nonverbal communications. But paralanguage raises the problem of the extension of the field of linguistics. From a holistic and semiotic point of view, it seems rather arbitrary to separate the ...

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pp. 251-266

Except for its historical dimension, the study of writing has been a neglected field of language studies. Etymologically, the terms language and linguistics are related only to spoken language (Lat. lingua 'tongue'). Although languages have traditionally been studies mainly on the basis of written records, many linguists have shared ...

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Universal Language

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pp. 267-278

The range of utility of language as a tool of human communication are limited by the geographical and historical diversity of natural languages. The semiotic roots of these shortcomings lie in the linguistic design features of arbitrariness and tradition (see Language 3.1.37ndash;4). With the aim of overcoming the Babylonian confusion of tongues, about...

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Sign Language

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pp. 279-286

Sign Languages (SLs) in the narrower sense are semiotic systems of gestural communication with the communicative potential of a spoken language. Such gestural languages have been developed in contexts where speech is not available (as in the SLs of the deaf), in situations where speech is forbidden (as in aboriginal SLs). Like writing, SL communicate via the ...

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Language Substitutes

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pp. 287-292

Language substitutes are secondary codes whose signs are molded on the model of a primary linguistic code. Since there are several degrees of dependence between verbal languages and other language-based codes, the semiotic field under consideration has been defined in broader and in narrower ways. This handbook adopts the narrower definition:...

PART V. From Structuralism to Text Semiotics: Schools and Major Figures

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From Structuralism to Text Semiotics: Introduction

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pp. 295-297

This section introduces major schools and figures of text semiotics and argues that structuralism in its various variants is an important source of inspiration for most of these schools. The scope of this section is restricted in two ways: (1) The field of text semiotics is reduced to verbal texts. (For this restriction see also Text Semiotics.) (2) The ...

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Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Neostructuralism

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pp. 298-306

Structuralism extends over linguistics, anthropology, mathematics, biology, psychology (cf. Piager 1968), the social sciences, psychoanalysis, history, philosophy, and literary criticism (see Text Semiotics). For general surveys see Ehrmann, ed. (1966), Auzias (1967), Fages (1968), Ducrot et al. (1968), Corvez (1969), Schiwy (1969a; 1971; 1973), Lane, ed. ...

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Russian Formalism, Prague School, Soviet Semiotics

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pp. 307-309

Russian Formalism was at the root of the development from text structuralism to semiotics in Eastern Europe. The schools of Prague and Moscow-Tartu became most influential propagators of text semiotics. For other developments in East European text semiotics, see, e.g., Odmark, ed. (1979–80), and Voigt (1979). An integrating figure in this development ...

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Barthes’s Text Semiotics

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pp. 310-313

The continuity in the development from structuralism to text semiotics is particularly evicent in the works of Roland Barthes (1915–1980). In the 1960s, Barthes was both a leading structuralist and one of the earliest propagators of Saussure's semiological program. In this tradition, he contributed to text semiotics (see Myth, Literature, Narrative, Theology), to the semiotics ...

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Greimas’s Structural Semantics and Text Semiotic Project

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pp. 314-320

With his Structural Semantics (1966), Algirdas Julien Greimas (b. 1917) introduced a highly influential and productive text semiotic school, the School of Paris (Coquet et al. 1982, Parret & Ruprecht, eds. 1985. Arrivé & Coquet, eds. 1987, Perron & Collins, eds. 1988). In spite of several phases of continuous ...

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Kristeva’s Semanalysis

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pp. 321-324

Julia Kristeva (b. 1941) is the author of an influential poststructuralist semiotic text theory which she first introduced under the designation of semanalysis (Kristeva 1969c). Although this term is rarely used in her later works, Kristeva's (1969c) project of "Research for a Semanalysis" developed into a semiotic theory of remarkable coherence (Kristeva 1969c; ...

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pp. 325-326

Umberto Eco (b. 1932) has made significant contributions to many areas of theoretical and applied semiotics, many of which are discussed in detail in several chapters of this handbook. This chapter gives a survey of the main topics of this research and focuses on Eco's development from structuralism to text semiotics and on his definition of semiotics as a theory of culture. ...

PART VI. Text Semiotics: The Field

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Text Semiotics: Introduction

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pp. 329-333

The introduction to this section gives a brief survey of the field of text semiotics, discusses related approaches to the study of texts, and introduces some major definitions of text and criteria of textuality. Although this handbook discusses many other semiotic phenomena as texts, text semiotics in this section is primarily restricted to the study of verbal texts. The ...

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Hermeneutics and Exegesis

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pp. 334-337

Hermeneutics is both a predecessor and a neighboring discipline of text semiotics. Originally the "art of interpretation," hermeneutics was one of the earliest sciences of the text and thus a precursor of text semiotics. Like rhetoric, Hermeneutics has its most important roots in ancient Greece. (But see Rey 1973: 45–62 and Todorov 1978: 47–49 on Sanscrit, Faur ...

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Rhetoric and Stylistics

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pp. 338-345

Rhetoric, the ancient art of persuasion, and stylistics, its younger descendant, are programmatically included in the semiotic field by those who consider semiotics to be the discipline which studies the' 'life of signs within society" (cf. Saussure 2.1), those who define it as a "translinguistic" science of the text (cf. Barthes 5.), and those who follow Morris's ...

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pp. 346-353

The semiotics of literature studies the specifics of literary signs and systems. A survey of the state of the art in literary semiotics shows that research in this field overlaps especially with poetic and aesthetic semiotics. Also, literary semiotics is not always clearly distinguished from text semiotics as a whole. this chapter will focus on semiotic theories of ...

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Poetry and Poeticalness

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pp. 354-360

The semiotics of poetry and of the more general phenomenon of poeticalness is an interdisciplinary project of linguistics (cf. Levin 1962, Cohen 1966, Koch 1966, Baumgärtner 1969, Greimas, ed. 1972, Delas & Filliolet 1973, Kloepfer 1975, Shapiro 976, Pelletier 1977, Oomen 1979, Posner 1982, Hoffstaedter 1986) and literary theory (cf. Culler 1975, Arrivé 1979, Hardt 1976). The ...

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Theater and Drama

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pp. 361-366

The theater is a topic of many semiotic dimensions. Barthes describes it as an "informational polyphony" and characterizes theatricality by its particular "density of signs" (Barthes 1964b: 262). As presentation, theater has the character of a sign, showing one thing instead of another (Eco 1975: 34). As sign, it participates in processes of aesthetic communication. ...

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pp. 367-373

The semiotics of narrative has become a classical area of text semiotics. Its closest neighboring field is the semiotics of literature, but narratology, the theory of narrative, is also concerned with nonliterary narratives. In its foundations, semiotic narratology was also influenced by the structural analysis of myth. Pursuing a tradition beginning with Russian ...

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pp. 374-376

Myth is a basic phenomenon of human culture. Its fundamental relevance to the science of man has made it an object of study of interdisciplinary research. Modern interpretations of myth begin in 1725 with Vico's New Science (cf. Hawkes 1977: 11&ndash15). With Lévi-Strauss, myth becomes a privileged object of text semiotics. Beginning with Barthes, myth has been ...

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pp. 377-380

The study of ideologies brings semiotics into interdisciplinary contact with philosophy and the social sciences. As a science, ideology has been connected with modern semiotics since its early history. Today, the semiotic analysis of ideologies is a recurrent topic of theoretical semiotics and of text semiotics, especially in the critical semiotic study of the mass media. ...

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pp. 381-384

Although semiotic theology has so far been concerned mainly with the semiotics of texts, it belongs only in part to the field of text semiotics. If theology is research in religious texts and their exergesis, and if the semiotics of religion is to be defined as "a science which studies religious discourse with religious praxis" (Davidsen 1981: 79), then ...

PART VII. Nonverbal Communication

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Nonverbal Communication: Introduction

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pp. 387-391

Pursuing Saussure's program for the extension of research from linguistics to "a science that studies the life of signs within society," semioticians have turned to the study of nonverbal communication as the semiotic field most closely connected with verbal behavior (cf. Rossi-Landi 1968: 66). The core of nonverbal communication is the semiotic function ...

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Gesture, “Body Language,” and Kinesics

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pp. 392-401

This chapter deals with the semiotic potential of the human body from hand and arm gestures to posture and body movements. Following Birdwhistell, this field of research is often subsumed under the designation of kinesics, but many social psychologists use this term only for Birdwhistell's own structuralist approach to the field. The study of gesticulation (parallel to speech) ...

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Facial Signals

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pp. 402-404

Long before scholars began to study the "language of the face" (Darwin 1872, Nummenmaa 1964, Kirchhoff, ed. 1965, Izard 1971, Ekman 1980a; 1982, Ekman et al. 1972, Ekman, ed. 1973, Ekman & Friesen 1975, Harper et al. 1978: 77–118), artists, poets, and actors had recognized the semiotic potential of facial expression (cf. Engel 1785, Bell 1806). The face ...

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pp. 405-406

In a cliché of popular culture, the eye is "the mirror of the soul," and archaic cultures believe in the magic power of the "evil eye." Such views epitomize the great social significance of gazing behavior. Semiotic functions of the eye and of visual interatction have been explored by cultural ethologists (Koenig 1975), social psychologists (Ellgring 1975, Argyle & Cook 1976), linguists ...

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Tactile Communication

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pp. 407-409

Tactile information transfer is one of the most primitive forms of communication. Its semiotic importance decreases in moving from zoo- to anthroposemiotics. Nevertheless, many social psychologists have considered bodily contact as an autonomous mode of nonverbal communication (cf. Argyle 1975: 286–99, Leathers 1976: 141–68, Henley 1977: 94–123, Knapp ...

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Proxemics: The Semiotics of Space

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pp. 410-414

Proxemics in its broadest sense is the semiotics of space. Originally developed by Hall in the context of cultural anthropology, proxemics was early based on semiotic principles. Proxemics in its narrower sense is usually studied as a mode of nonverbal communication, but the semiotics of space is a topic of many more interdisciplinary concerns. ...

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Chronemics: The Semiotics of Time

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pp. 415-418

Chronemics, the semiotics of time, is a relatively recent branch of semiotics, although concern with the temporal dimension of human behavior and existence is as old as Philosophy. as a branch of semiotics, chronemics is closely related to proxemics, the semiotics of space. But the semiotics of time transcends the field of nonverbal communication in also being ...

PART VIII. Aesthetics and Visual Communication

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pp. 421-428

Originally, aesthetics was the study of beauty in works of art and in nature. Following Plato, many philosophers considered beauty to be an intrinsic property of objects. In contrast to this view, semiotic approaches to aesthetics consider works of art as signs and texts whose production and reception are a specific process of semiosis. Classical theories of the essence of ...

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pp. 429-434

The semiotics of music raises the question whether sounds can be studied as signs, compositions as messages, and music as a semiotic system. The answers have been controversial. Although some have rejected the concept of a musical sign (Benveniste 1969: 238), many scholars have accepted music as an object of semiotic study. Nevertheless, some have ...

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pp. 435-439

the semiotics of architecture, a branch of the semiotics of visual communication, is closely related to aesthetics, to the semiotics of objects, and to proxemics, the semiotics of space (see esp. Eco 1968: 344ff.). Preziosi (1979a) even discovers connections to zoosemiotics when he talks about "zooarchitectonics." According to Barthes, the semiotics of architecture ...

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pp. 440-445

The semiotics of objects studies the communicative potential of cultural artifacts and natural objects. The possibility of a semiotics of the natural world (Greimas 1970: 49–92), the transformation of real-world objects into signs, and the so-called language of objects raise the question of the semiotic threshold from nonsemiotic to the sphere of semiosis. A paradigm ...

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pp. 446-455

Images cover a broad spectrum of phenomena, of which many are also discussed elsewhere in this handbook. This chapter will therefore focus only on the two extremes of this spectrum, pictures and mental images. A survey of the broad field of phenomena defined as images indicates a variety of semiotic topics extending beyond this article. ...

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pp. 456-459

This chapter is, in a way, an appendix to the one on images and a subchapter to the one on aesthetics. Two more general topics, the essence of pictorial representation and the aesthetic value of paintings, are discussed there, while the present chapter gives only a survey of the precursors of, the major approaches to, and some topics in the semiotics of painting. ...

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pp. 460-462

Photographs are pictures which have many features in common with other images (cf. McLean 1973). Beyond these general characteristics (also discussed in the context of iconicity, film, and advertising), the semiotics of photography has tried to determine the specificity of the photographic sign. ...

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pp. 463-471

Film semiotics, or the semiotics of cinema, has become a major trend in film theory. The search for the structures of a filmic code began with the hypothesis of homologies between language and film. In addition to this research in the "grammar of film," the study of the filmic sign and communication are among the central topics of film semiotics. Many filmologists ...

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pp. 472-475

Comic strips are a mass medium in which several semiotic codes are transformed in genre-specific ways. The study of this medium transcends the field of visual communication. Its specific features are also in the fields of nonverbal communication, language, narrativity, and hence text semiotics. ...

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pp. 476-480

The semiotics of advertising offers interdisciplinary perspectives on the study of sign exchange and research in commodity exchange (economics). In this interdisciplinary field, semiotics contributes to advertising research with respect both to methodology and to the object of investigation. Concerning the former, semiotics provides the theoretical tools for the ...


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pp. 481-550

Index of Subjects and Terms

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pp. 551-564

Index of Names

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pp. 565-576

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116086
E-ISBN-10: 0253116082
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341204

Page Count: 592
Publication Year: 1990

Series Title: Advances in Semiotics

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  • Semiotics -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
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