Over and Under [coding]

Begins 7:05pm

[SS I want to tell them why it has taken so long to get to the page today.]

[OS Because you spent most of the day observing the legal codes of Irish society as you waited for a judge to decide if you were going to be fined.]

[SS Yeah, I think it is a valid reason why it took so long to write and why you don’t really feel like writing now.  I do want everyone to know that the judge saw fit not to fine me.]

[OS You afraid you will be thought badly of.]

[SS A bit, but more to set the record straight and confirm that the legal codes work!]

Eco argues that Pierce in his use of Abduction has subsumed two different hypothetical movements and he has complicated the code. (p133) The two hypothetical movements are overcoding and undercoding.

Cases of overcoding in verbal language includes all stylistical and rhetorical rules.  And outside the range of language, all iconological entities are the result of overcoding.  Overcoding Eco explains is an innovatory activity and over coded rules allows the ‘social exchange of signs’. (p134) There are also cases of under-coding where “…macroscopic portions of certain texts are assumed to be pertinent units of a code in formation.”

Over coding = process that proceeds from existing codes > to more analytical subcodes.

Under coding = process that proceeds from non-existing codes > to potential codes.

Over and Under-coding signal a borderline between innovation and convention.  There are also examples of extra-coding, which cover movements of both at once.  But communication would be very tiring, Eco points out, if every expression was analysed item by item.  In a way there is a continuous process of overcoding as we are “…continuously anticipating expressions, filling up the empty spaces in the text…”. (p136)

[SS Like the way I fill the empty spaces marking our internal conversation!]

So there is a degree of discoursive competence that can range in scale from ‘socially defined procedures’ (as in a hero’s death in a tragedy); to anyone’s ability to guess a phrase spoken in the context of a conversation.

Overcoding and undercoding are half way between a Theory of Codes and a Theory of Sign Production.  The difference between the two ‘permits one to define correctly…the difference, proposed by Lotman, between grammar-oriented and text-oriented cultures”. (p137)

Grammatically oriented cultures are ‘content’ oriented societies that have ‘handbooks’ of rules.  Whereas textually oriented cultures are expression oriented societies that have ‘the book’, which is a text produced by as yet unknown rules.  This difference can be exemplified in the methods of language introduction for adults and children.  Adults are introduced to language through a set of rules.  Children learn language through continuous performance of texts, even if they are not entirely conscious of the underlying rules.  (p138)

It is therefore conceivable, Eco contends, that the process of language acquisition in a child for its native language is:

1/ Acts of undercoding,

2/ Successive coding,

3/ Acts of overcoding, which become a continuous process into adult life.

This process is at the heart of the Theory of Sign Production.  The activity of extra-coding, however, is a category of a theory of codes.  “Thus the criss-cross play of circumstances and abductive presuppositions, along with the interplay of various codes and subcodes, makes the message (or text) appear as an empty form to which can be attributed various possible senses.” (p139)  So the informative impact of a sign, such as the skull-on-bottle example used in previous discussions, will grow according to the information of the bottle’s location.

The basic denotation of the sign-vehicle can be understood just as the sender intended, but can also have different connotations simply because the addressee takes different paths.  Both can exist.  Sometimes there are aberrations, or betrayal of a sender’s intentions, because of the possibility of different interpretations unforeseen by the sender.  The sociology of mass media widely recognise these phenomena as the ‘boomerang effect’, and ‘two step flow’, which explains the passage of information from mass media to the wider population through the filtering effect of ‘opinion leaders’. (p141)

Messages circulating from ‘centres of communicational power to the subproleterian peripheries of the world’ are not decoded by the addressee then the message is received as pure noise.

[SS Like the noisy screams of Myrtle just before she realises she is about to die in the story.]

[OS Yeah.  Poor Myrtle certainly didn’t decode the signs and messages all around her of her impending death.  But in our ‘semiotically oriented sociological study’ (p142) we may develop an understanding of her and animal ‘culture’.]

[SS Seems like lots of people are dying lately.  And I don’t just mean Myrtle.]

Ends 8:16pm

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