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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

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Volume 2018, Issue 225


A simple traffic-light semiotic model for tagmemic theory

Vern Poythress
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  • New Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2960 W. Church Road, Glenside, Pennsylvania, USA
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Published Online: 2018-10-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2017-0025


The complexity and flexibility of tagmemic theory, as a semiotic theory developed by Kenneth L. Pike, can be better understood by examining how it applies to a simple semiotic system like traffic lights. We can then compare the result with how it functions in analyzing a piece of natural language. Tagmemic theory introduces three observer viewpoints – the particle view, the wave view, and the field view. Each view generates a suite of questions to answer. Any one of the views results in a “complete” description of traffic lights, from which the information about the other views can be inferred. And yet each view is distinct in texture from the others, and the existence of such multiple views – each with a claim to emic integrity and each serving as a perspective on the whole – has to be accounted for in a robust semiotic approach. The same phenomena occur when we apply the three views to the analysis of meaning in natural language. The chief illustration is to analyze the meaning of the word dog in multiple ways. The multi-dimensional potential for semiotic analysis highlights the limitations of Aristotelian logic and symbolic logic, both of which simplify for the sake of rigor.

Keywords: tagmemic theory; particle; wave; and field views; observer viewpoint; emic; perspective; Kenneth L. Pike


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-10-31

Published in Print: 2018-11-06

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2018, Issue 225, Pages 253–267, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2017-0025.

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