Interpreting Interpretants

Begins 1:55pm

For a time the theory of meaning was side stepped because the form of content was so imprecise that linguistics and semiotics in general concerned itself only with:

1 The universe of objective referents.

2 The universe of psychic events.

3 Social universe of uses.

It is the idea of the interpretant that allows for entities in cultural life the ability to become independently both meaning and sign-vehicle.  A definition of interpretant, Eco, explains that functions within the framework of a code of theory should cover the three semiotic categories noted previously.

[OS I opened the post at 1:55 and closed it at 14:41 what happened in between was a lot of interruptions: mince pies; the setting of a chocolate cake; a hen pheasant visiting a chilly lawn; and family coming to visit]

Resume later this evening

Begins 17:13

Although I sense the importance of Eco’s idea of the Interpretant, it’s meaning still alludes me.  It does appear from what I read to be important and an almost focal point to the theory of content.  Its development is part ofthe broader development of ‘content-form’.  Developing a general system for content-form is/was elaborated within the field of Structural Semantics and its ‘subsystems, fields and axes” (P75).  This came out of prior discoveries within Modern Linguistics that a given term triggers associations. [In text 2 of this Phd, Polo’s story, the developmental threads are illustrated in debates within the ESS].  This next stage in the developmental path came from combined work between lexicographers and anthropologists who isolated systems of highly structured cultural units for example in the field of colours and terms of kinship.

Structural Semantics went further by creating semantic axes and fields for semantic units that do not correspond to names of objects.  Therefore, ‘meaning’ as a cultural unit was not just applicable in categoriematic terms but also syncategorematically.

[SS Had to repeat the spelling of that a few times and still can’t quite say it.  But strangely I understand its meaning.  I feel obliged to use the same word as Eco, because he obviously took a lot of time and thought choosing it.  But I wish there was another word.  It will be fun and interesting bringing these words, ideas, theories and content to life on the other pages of this Phd.]

As with semiotics, structural semantics is also challenged by the layers of infinite regression in Pierce’s work (cited on P69).  “Semiosis explains itself by itself” and in the continual circularity there are points where the semantic space gets stuck.  For example, in the Framework for Research in the semantic space structuring is achieved in very restricted subsystems: for example, colours, botanical classifications and meteorological terms.  Eco, points to a second obstacle in the framework of research.  That of the movements within culture and critical revisions both of which are enough to upset a semantic field (p76). Whereas phonological systems tend to remain stable and unchanged for long periods of time within the history of language, the life of semantic fields are briefer.

A semantic field can show a ‘world vision’ of a culture.  Eco exemplifies the European way of analysing the colour spectrum and compares it to the Hindu, Russian and Greco-Roman naming categories.  Naming is a visual experience and not ‘real’.  We name because it is pertinent to our biological survival.  So an Eskimo’s division of snow into four categories has a significant and pertinent role in their cultural life in a way that a European’s single naming of ‘snow’ does not.

Another example of the challenge of structural semantics is shown in the semantic fields of rodents.  In Latin, Mus covers both the structural fields of Rat and Mouse found in English.  When both the naming of the colour spectrum and the naming of rodents are contrasted it points to another challenge for structural semantics.  The first is culturally dependent, whereas the latter zoologists would demonstrate can be identified as objects that can be analysed by properties and function.

The segmentation of semantic fields points to how content determines world vision of a certain civilisation.

[OS I am not sure I got that exactly right, but it’s feeling closer.  Just realised, I am only on page 79 and I am not yet supposed to understand everything! ]

[SS But aren’t you supposed to ‘represent’ the ‘meaning’ of Eco’s Theory of Semiotics as if you do understand everything!]

[OS Oh piss off]

Ends 17:55


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