AL AKHAWAYN UNIVERSITY
SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
COMMUNICATIONS STUDIES
4. THOERIES OF SIGNS AND LANGUAGE
Lecture by Prof. Dr. Mohammed Ibahrine
based on
Littlejohn’s Theories of Human Communication
Structure of the Lecture
•
•
1. Three Branches
2. Classical Systematic Theory
 2.1 Pierce’s Basic Notion of Sign
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•
3. Language and the Study of Syntactics

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
•
3.1 Classical Foundation
3.2 Structural Linguistics
3.3 Generative Grammar
4. The Symantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Bahavior
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

•
2.2 Charles Morris
2.3 Susanne Langer
4.1 Birdwhistell on Kinesics
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics
4.3 Hall on Proxemics
5. Commentary and Critique
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1. Three Branches
•
Charles Morris has divided the field into three
branches:

The first is semantics, or the study of how signs relate to
things

The second is syntactics, or the study of hw signs relate to
other signs

The third is the branch of pragmatics, or the study of the
actual use of codes in everyday life
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1. Three Branches
•
The first is semantics, or

•
the study of how signs relate to things
Here we are interested in what a sign is taken to
designate, the relationship between the world of
signs and the world of things
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1. Three Branches
•
The second is syntactics, or

•
the study of hw signs relate to other signs
This branch examines grammar and structure,
pointing to the ways signs are organized into
larger sign systems
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1. Three Branches
•
The third is pragmatics, or

the study of the actual use of codes in everyday life,
including

and

the effects of signs on human behavior
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the ways people mold signs and meanings in their actual
interaction
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1. Three Branches
•
Organized systems of signs and the use of these systems in every
day life have been refereed to as syntactic and pragmatic codes
•
Syntactic codes consist of a set of features that enable people to
communicate in a wide variety of situations, even though they
have had no opportunity to negotiate meanings with one another
•
In contrast, pragmatic codes tend to be used in everyday speech and
rely on the practical knowledge of particular groups within given
situations
Pragmatic codes can only be understood because of the shared
knowledge of those involved in the situation
•
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Pierce’s Basic Notion of Sign
•
The first modern theory of signs was developed by Charles
Pierce, founder of modern semiotics
•
Pierce defined semiotics as
» “a relationship among a sign, an object, and a
meaning”
•
The sign represents the object, or referent, in the mind of
interpreter
•
Pierce referred to the representation of an object by a sign as
the interpretant
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(Please read the example and see Figure 4.1 in P.59)
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Charles Morris

Morris showed that all human action involves signs
and meaning in various intriguing ways

Any act consists of three stages:



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Perception
Manipulation
Consummation
(Please read the example and see Figure 4.1 in P.59)
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Charles Morris

In perception the person becomes aware of a sign

During the perception stage signs designate- they point,
show, or refer to some object or condition
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Charles Morris

In the manipulation stage, the person
interprets the sign and decides how to respond
to it

During the manipulation stage, signs tend to
prescribe, advice, or tell us what to do
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Charles Morris

The response is the consummation

In the consummation stage, they appraise or
evaluate
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(Please read the example in P.60)
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
•
Susanne Langer
Langer considers symbolism to be the central concern of
philosophy, a topic that underlies all human knowing and
understanding
•
Langer makes a distinction between signs and symbols
•
She uses the term sign in a more restricted sense than Morris to
mean a stimulus that signals the presence of something else
•
Symbols is “an instrument of thoughts”
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Susanne Langer

Langer vocabulary includes three additional terms:

Signification

Denotation

Connotation
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Susanne Langer
•
Signification, is he meaning of a sign, or a symbol
stimulus announcing the presence of some object
•
Signification is a simple one-to-one relationship
between sign and object, as between a stop sign
and cross traffic
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Susanne Langer

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Denotation is the relation of the symbol to its
object (referent)
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2. Classical Semantic Theory
•
Susanne Langer

Connotation of a symbol is the direct
relationship between the symbols and the
conception (Though or Reference)

Connotation includes all of one’s personal
feelings and associations attached to a symbol
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(Please read about meaning in P.62)
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
•
•
•
The study of language has been heavily influenced by
semiotics and vice versa
3.1 Classical Foundations
Ferdinand de Saussure taught that signs, including
language are arbitrary
He noted different languages use different words for the
same thing and that there is usually no physical connection
between words and its referent
Signs are conventions governed by rules
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
3.1 Classical Foundations
•
Saussure believed that all a person knows of the world is
determined by language
•
Signs are not referential
•
Signs do not designate objects but constitute them
•
•
There can be no object apart from the signs used to
designate it
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
3.1 Classical Foundations
Saussure made an important distinction between formal language
(langue) and the actual use of language in communication (parole)
•
Language (langue) is a formal system that can be analyzed apart
from its use in everyday life
•
Speech (parole) is the actual use of language to accomplish
purposes
•
Language is not created by users, but speech is
•
The speech is more less regular and more variable
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
3.1 Classical Foundations
Linguistics, to Saussure, is the study of language, not
(parole)
•
One difference between langue and parole is stability
•
Language is characterized by synchrony, meaning it changes
very little over time
•
Speech is characterized by diachrony, meaning that changes
constantly from situation to situation
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
3.2 Structural Linguistics
Influenced by Saussure, throatiest developed the standard model
of sentence structure
•
Basically, this model breaks down a sentence into components in
hierarchical fashion
•
Sounds and sound groups combine to form word roots and word
parts, which in turn combine to form words, then phrases
•
Phrases are put together to make clauses or sentences
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
3.2 Structural Linguistics
•
The first level of analysis involves the study of phonetics, or
speech sound
•
A particular speech sound is a phone
•
Phones that sound very similar are grouped into sound family
called phoneme, which is the basic building block of any language
•
Any dialect of a language contains a number of phonemes, which
are combined according to rules to produce morphemes, the
smallest meaningful linguistic unit
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(Please see the Diagram in P.65)
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
3.3 Generative Grammar
Noam Chomsky is the primary force behind generative grammar
(GG)
•
GG rests, first, on the assumption that sentence generation is
central to sentence structure
•
The form of a sentence cannot be separated from the process by
which it is generated
•
Second, the objective of GG is to isolate a set of rules that explain
how any sentence could be generated
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3. Language and the Study of Syntactics
•
•
3.3 Generative Grammar
The third is the transformation
•
GG is also named transformational grammar
•
At some point the surface structure of a sentence must have
been transformed from some other deeper form
•
Generative grammar seeks to explain this transformation
process
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
•
Nonverbal code systems are often classed
according to the type of activity used in the code
Burgoon suggests seven types:
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



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1. Kinesics = Bodily activity
2. Vocalics = Voice
3. Physical appearance
4. Haptics = Touch
5. Proxemics = Space
6. Chronemics = Time
7. Artifacts = Objects
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
Burgoon characterizes nonverbal code systems as
possessing several structural properties



1. Nonverbal codes tend to be analogical rather than digital
Nonverbal signals like facial expression and vocal intonation
cannot be classed into one category or another
They are graduation


2. Nonverbal codes is iconicity, or resemblance
Iconic code resemble the thing being symbolized


3. Certain nonverbal codes seem to elicit universal meaning
Threats and emotional display
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior


4. Nonverbal codes enable the simultaneous transmission
of several messages
With the face, body, voice and other signals, several
different messages can be sent at once

5. Nonverbal signals often evoke an automatic response
without thinking

6. Nonverbal signals are often emitted spontaneously, as
when you let off nervous energy
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.1 Birdwhistell on Kinesics
•
Kinesics is popularly referred to as “body language”
•
Birdwhistell lists seven assumptions on which he bases his theory:
•
•
1. All body movements have potential meaning in communicative
contexts
Somebody can always assign meaning to any bodily activity
•
2. Behavior can be analyzed because it is organized
•
3. The use of bodily motion is considered to be a part of the social
system
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
•
4.1 Birdwhistell on Kinesics
Different groups will therefore use gestures differently
•
4. People are influenced by the visible bodily activity of
others
•
5. The ways in which bodily activity functions in
communication can be studied
•
6. A person’s use of bodily activity will have idiosyncratic
features but will also be part of a larger social system
shared with others
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

Paul Ekman and Wallace Fiesen

Analyzed nonverbal activity three ways:



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Origin
Coding
Usage
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

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Origin is the source of an act
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics


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Coding is the relationship of the act to
its meaning
An act may be arbitrary, with no
meaning inherent in the sign itself
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

The third way to analyze behavior is by usage

A communicative act is used deliberately to
convey meaning

Interactive acts actually influence behavior
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

The first type is emblem

Emblems have a verbal translation of rather precise meaning

They are normally used in deliberate fashion to communicate a
particular message

The origin of emblem is cultural learning

They may be either arbitrary or iconic
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
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4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

The second type is illustrators

Illustrators are used to depict what is being said verbally

They are intentional

They are informative or communicative in use and
occasionally may be interactive
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics


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The third type is adaptor
They serve to facilitate release of bodily tension

Self-adaptors

Alter-adaptors

Object-adaptors

They are rarely intentional

They are intrinsic or iconic
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

The fourth type is regulators

Regulators are used to control or coordinate interaction

We use eye contact to signal interaction

They are primarily interactive

Their origin is cultural
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
•
4.2 Ekman and Friesen on Kinesics

The final type is affect display

They involve the display of feelings and emotions

The face is particularly rich source for affect display

Affect displays are intrinsically coded

They are often interactive

And always informative
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
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4.3 Hall Proxemics

For Edward Hall proxemics refers to the use of
space in communication

The way space is used in interaction is a very
much a cultural matter

Different sense are important to different
cultures
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4. The Semantics and Syntactics of Nonverbal Behavior
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4.3 Hall Proxemics


In the US, sight and hearing predominate
In the Arab world, smell is important

In the general, the predominant senses of a
culture partially determine the way in which
space is used within that culture
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5. Commentary and Critique

The study of signs and language is an important core of
communication theory

In a critique of semiotics, John Stewart challenges five
commitments of semiotics theory
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5. Commentary and Critique


1. The two worlds commitment
The idea that signs and objects are
separate with one representing the other

2. The second is atomism, or the practice
of analyzing sign systems, including
language, by breaking them into small
parts
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5. Commentary and Critique

3. The third commitment is representation, the belief that
signs represent things other than themselves

4. There is the system commitment, which leads to the
depiction of signs in objective systems that can be
examined and understood from outside

5. The idea that signs and language are a way of
transmitting thoughts and ideas from one place to
another
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