Two steps toward semiotic capacity: Out of the muddy concept of language

Abstract

As John Deely has suggested in his Four ages of understanding, philosophia in practice is semiotic process, an engagement in the world through the action of signs. But this observation leads us to a point of contention with Deely's treatment of semiotic process itself and its connection with the more widely understood notions about language in our time. Specifically, there are major difficulties with the treacherous formal and popular nomenclature about the phenomenon of language and its philosophical connection to the “semiology” of Saussure and sign theory of C. S. Peirce. Our issue is with the formal use of the term “language” centrally and often in its technical sense as an analytical system — a way of “seeing or looking at the world” that is prior to and removed from the communicative sense of “language” — while at the same time also informally employing the term in its common and practical sense as a system for information exchanges. In fact, Deely's comprehensive annotated index helps resolve some of the issue. But taken in the context of Deely's broader argument, the problem with the definition and use of the term “language” somewhat stifles the attempt to revise appreciation of our arrival at the “time of the sign” as a species-specific capacity.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.

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