Communication, Signs, and Symbols


We live in a country of diversity, which include a multitude of races and cultures, each with a unique way of communicating through the use of symbols and meanings. We plan to look at a variety of theorists and their unique communication theories, the use of symbols and how to determine the meaning of a particular phrase.

First, Brooke will explore Ogden and Richards' Meaning Triangle. She will also discuss the intention behind the triangle and how it is affiliated with thought process. Brooke will then examine Charles Morris, a philosopher and the theorist behind the three fields of sign theory.

Next, Victor will review Osgood's Mediation Hypothesis. The theory that is based on the question of how meanings are learned and how they relate to thinking and behavior. This which leads to his paper of Umberto Eco's Theory of Sign Production. Here he analyzes semiosis and its four part system.

Brenden's paper will talk about Samuel Bois and Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. You will discover how there are four ellipses which interact with each other to produce human actions. Then he will move on to discuss Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that states that a cultures language structure dictates how people will think and behave.

Laurie will then take you on a journey with Noam Chomsky and his theory of Generative Grammar. Laurie will also inform you of Gary Cronkhite's cognitive structure and the uses of the AESOP.

Then, Allissa will enlighten you on Pearce and Cronen's Coordinated Management of Meaning. Allissa will try to simplify this complex topic and help you better understand it's meaning.

Lastly, Doc will end off our report with a talk about Hall's Proxemic Theory. Here you will learn how and why different cultures have different Proximities.



Communication is preeminently symbolic. There are two major categories of signals people send: signs and symbols. Signs are the foundation of all communication. A sign designates something other than itself, and meaning is the link between an object or idea and a sign (Littlejohn 64). These primary ideas link together an astoundingly wide set of theories administering with symbols, language, discourse, and nonverbal forms, ideas that elucidate how signs are affiliated to their meanings and how signs are disposed. The study of signs is commonly referred to as semiotics.

Charles Sauders Peirce, founder of modern semiotics, defined semiosis as a relationship among a sign, an object, and a meaning. The sign is a natural event that has a direct, inherent connection with what it represents. Pierce accredited to the representation of an object by a sign as the interpretant. For example, a blush is a sign of individual unease called embarrassment, and a bear track in the woods is a sign that a bear has passed. The word embarrassment or thought that a bear has passed is not the word or thought, but the association you make (the interpretant) links the two. All three elements are required in an irreducible triad in order for signs to operate (Littlejohn 64). This three-part connection is distinctly represented in a renowned model produced by C.K. Ogden and I. A. Richards.

Ogden and Richard's triangle is intended to exemplify how words are affiliated to both thoughts and things. The word-thought relationship is ordained. Aristotle used to say, "Words stand for thoughts." The association among thought and thing is also more or less present. In contrast, the word-thing relationship is arbitrary; numerous orders of written letters or spoken sounds can be used to refer to the same thing.

Symbols make up our communication system, which includes both verbal and non-verbal components. Symbols are correspondents, for example, cats and dogs - symbols convey meaning. It is clearly depicted in Ogden and Richards model that without symbols we can not transport an idea from our environment to our brain, from one part of our brain to another, or from one person to another.

Charles Morris, a well-known philosopher, wrote for many years about signs and values. Morris thinks of a sign as a stimulus that evokes a readiness to respond. In a Latin-influenced vocabulary, he defines the interpreter as the organism that takes a stimulus as a sign, the interpret as a disposition to respond in certain ways because of the sign, the denotatum as anything designated by the sign that enables the organism to respond appropriately, and the significatum as the conditions making the response possible (Littlejohn 65).

Morris' most inveterate offering is his designation of three fields of sign theory. The first field is the study of how signs are associated with things, or semantics. This is, we study, that a sign has taken on the role of designating the affiliation between the world of signs and the world of things.

The second is the study of how the signs relate to other signs, or syntactics. On the field, grammar and system structure are examined to point out the ways signs are first organized into larger sign systems. Syntactic codes correspond with a generalized set of characteristics that accredit persons who don't share common experiences to communicate.

Third, the region of pragmatics is implicated in the existent use of codes in everyday life, including the effects of signs on human behavior and the ways people cast signs and meanings in their actual interaction. Pragmatic codes tend to be used in everyday speech and rely on the practical knowledge of particular groups within given situations (Littlejohn 69). Pragmatic codes can be comprehended because of the partaken erudition of those included in the situation. For example, the word clean used by a tattoo artist is not meant as the opposite of dirty, but indicates an area of the skin that has not been tattooed.

It is common to find both syntactic and pragmatic codes in talk and writing, and there is only a slight degree of difference between messages. Semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics are considered to be Morris' most lasting contribution.

Umberto Eco's Semiotics


We are currently in an age of technology. The world is constantly in search of quicker and more efficient ways of exchanging information. Try as we might there will never be a faster way to exchange information than the "sign". In the 19th-century a philosopher and logician named Charles Saunders Peirce gave the first modern theory of signs, and was the founder of semiotics. He defined the semiosis as a relationship among a sign, an object, and a meaning (Littlejohn 64). Because of Peirce's research scientist like Charles Morris we able to further study semiotics. Morris who studied signs and values described signs as a stimulus that elicits a readiness to respond. Morris felt that all human action involved signs and meaning in various ways. He suggested that any act consisted in three stages- perception, consummation, and manipulation. This led to his model of the relation of values, signs, and the act (Littlejohn 66). Another theorist who studied semiosis was Susanne Langer. Langer theory made a distinction between symbols and signs. Langer felt that a sign was a stimulus that signals the presence of something else and that symbols are more complex. Langer suggested that "Symbols are not proxy of their objects, but are vehicles for the conception of objects. (Littlejohn 71)." All of these theorists led the way for an Italian named Umberto Eco. Eco studied semiotics also, and in 1976 made one of the most contemporary and comprehensive theories of signs. Eco's theory is important because it integrates earlier semiotic theories and carries semiotic thinking to a new level. This research paper will be focusing on Umberto Eco's theory of semiotics.

Eco's Theory of Sign Production

In Eco's theory he explains the way signs are used in social and cultural interaction. The theory state that semiosis is the representation of things by signs. He then goes on to describe semiosis in a four part system.

  1. Conditions or objects in the world.
  2. Signs
  3. A repertoire of responses
  4. A set of correspondence rules between signs and objects and between signs and responses (Littlejohn 71).

An example would be that of a traffic light. You have different light colors that signal different responses. If you see a green light you know you has the right of way, and it is OK to continue. If a yellow light appears it warns you of the upcoming red light and that you should slow down. If you see a red light you know that this means you knows longer have the right of way and you should stop.

Code systems or "s-code" is the system of objects, responses and signs' possibilities. A code is a set of correspondence rules used by a group or person. As people create a variety of codes for different purposes any s-code can be used again. Some times' people do not slow down for yellow lights and run red lights.

Eco then considers four ways people use signs. Recognition is the first. This is when a person sees a sign as an expression or something tangible. Then there is ostension, in which a person point to an example to represent something. Next, we have replica. This is the use of arbitrary signs in combination with other signs. Lastly, there is invention, or proposing a new way to organize a code (Littlejohn 72).

Next Umberto discusses sign function. Eco explains a sign function as the association of a sign with its referent according to the rule. So the sign function is the relationship between the sign and the signified, between an expression and a content (Littlejohn 72).

Following sign functions Eco converse about the use difference between codes and signs. He states that codes are organized sets of rules that relate to and define one another. Signs as expressions can be broken down into further expressions and contents, and contents, too, can be subdivided in this way. Also, he defined code systems are completely defined in terms of their internal relations. Where all sign functions are defined ultimately in terms of other sign functions (Littlejohn 72). Eco gives the following example (Eco 114).

Lastly Eco talks about denotation and connotations in relation to signs. He states that denotation is the content of an expression, where connotation is of a sign-function (Eco 86).

Umberto Eco sought to combine the earlier work of his colleges to put together a more complete theory of signs. To do this Eco had to first revise the theory of semiotics. With this he introduced his four part system of semiosis. He also brought forth the way people used signs, sign function, and their relation to denotation and connotation (Eco 86).

Osgood's Mediation Hypothesis


It has happened to all of us. You will be discussing something with someone and all of sudden they take it the wrong way. The foundation of this problem is that one person might see something and react to it one way and another might react to it differently. A psychologist named Charles Osgood studied these phenomena. He sought to find out how meanings are learned and how they relate to thinking and behavior. He follows the traditional concept that learning is a process of developing new internal and external associations for stimuli like words. Associations to these words are called connotations. This research paper will focus on Charles Osgood's Mediation Hypothesis (Littlejohn 130).

Osgood begins by stating that individuals respond to stimuli in the environment, forming a stimulus-response relationship. Osgood felt that the stimulus-response association established meaning. Also, he concluded that meaning is an internal mental response to a stimulus (Littlejohn 130). An example would be a boat. When you see a boat an internal association will appear in your mind, and this association constitutes your meaning for the airplane. Osgood then proposes a three-stage behavioral model.

Osgood suggest that this model can be used to analyze any behavior. He then states that there are three basic processes that are involved. First is encoding. Encoding is the process of receiving stimuli. Next there is association. This is the pairing stimuli and responses. Lastly there is decoding which is responding.

These processes occur on three levels. The projection level is the simple neural pathway system between sensor and effector organs. This is the reflexive level. Here the stimulus and response are linked automatically and directly. The integration level the stimulus response link is not automatic. Stimulus and response must be integrated by the brain through perceived association. Last there is the representational level. It is at this level that meaning occurs. The stimulus from the environment is projected onto the brain, where an internal response leads to the individual's overt response. The internal response is a learned association between certain actual responses to the object and a sign of the object. Thus a sign (a word, perhaps) will elicit a particular meaning or set of meanings, which stem from the association of the sign and the object (Littlejohn 70).

Charles Osgood sought to find out how meanings are learned, and how they relate to thinking behavior. To do this he developed his mediation hypothesis. This hypotheses consisted a three part three level model. With models such as these more insight into human though process can be established.

Samuel Bois's Semantic Reactor


According to Samuel Bois, there are four ellipses which interact with each other to produce human actions. Three of the four ellipses cover activities which are observable. These ellipses are labeled C (thinking), B (feeling), and A (self moving). The four ellipses deal with activities that require scientific instruments and techniques to document, these remain mysterious to the casual observer.

The top ellipses (C) covers activities that include thinking. Thinking activities include: "ideas", language, symbols, writing, reading, talking, listening, figuring out problems, planning etc. A financial statement, newspaper, bar graph letter, telegram, etc. are things that we use to think and communicate.

The next ellipse includes activities that come under the term feeling. There is a significant difference between thinking and feeeing. Examples of feeling include: pleasure, joy, anger, fear, desires, purposes, needs, worries, wishes, excitement, curiosity, and boredom. The feeling before a first date, a raise in salary, a kiss, a hand shake of appreciation, the planning of a move.

Ellipse (A) includes what are called the self-moving activities. These activities include the autonomous functioning of the organs and voluntary movements of the body. Our hearts pump, out lungs expand and contract, the whole body grows. Someone works with his hands, walks, speaks, shouts, sings, cries, eats drinks, throws a football, drives a car, etc.

The next ellipse (X) includes the mysterious activities that scientists discover and measure. This ellipse represents the field of electrocardiograms, electroencephlagrams, and electromyograms of anesthetics, insulin, vitamins, and hormones; of the lie detector, and of electroshocks.

These various activities overlap and interact with each other. When something happens in one section, something happens in all sections. Each ellipse has a direct effect on the others. If we concentrate very hard, we become tense; when we're emotionally upset, our thinking goes awry, when we drink alcohol, we feel a buzz. We bring about feelings of friendship by inviting them over for the big fight; eating fried foods and sweets makes us gain weight...We are organisms that work as a whole.

The final, and very important concept is the idea that we cannot separate this organism (man) from its environment of both time and space. A man may be born an Olympic long distance runner, but if he is raised in a family that teaches him to play chess, study hard, and play golf, he will never be that runner. Another example may be a person who was traumatized as a child by being locked in a dark closet. This person will not be the same directly because of this event.

An adult has been molded by his earlier life, by his culture, his work, etc. Man modifies and adapts to his environment with the changes that take place. Because of what we've said, we can say that "man is a thinking, feeling, self-moving electrochemical organism in continuous interaction with a space time environment." (Bois, 45).

We live in a world of "happening-meaning" (Bois, 46). As a result of this world that we live in, we react to anything and everything that goes on inside or outside itself. We react to things that will have taken place, that are taking place, and that will take place. We react, interpret and evaluate every happening against prior experience and anticipation. These are called semantic reactions.

This world of happenings-meanings is exemplified by the following example. There are three people in this scenario: the patient, the physician, and the technician. If we say the word cancer, it has different meanings to each person. To the patient, cancer exhibits feelings of depression and anxiety, to the physician cancer exhibits thought, such as what type of treatment to perform, and to the technician, he will just perform an action such as recording data from the test.

The dictionary meaning of words and the semantic reactions to works are two different things. The dictionary meaning refers to " the world of symbols ", the semantic reactions to the words refers to "the world of happenings" (Bois, 48). Like we previously said, ellipses are interacting with each other constantly, so too do these symbols and semantic reactions.

Samuel Bois has presented to us a very interesting, insightful approach to the world and its happening. From his semantic reactor theory we can draw several conclusions. No two persons react to any word or symbol in exactly the same way. These unique reactions we have are due to the fact that four areas of activity (C, B, A, X), and the space- time environment of two people will never be the same. Next, is the fact that organisms react as a whole, there is no purely "physical" or purely "psychological" reactions that take place. If someone disagrees with you, they fight you at all levels.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the theory of linguistic relativity, is based on the work of Edward Sapir and his colleague Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf is primarily known for his study in linguistics with the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Whorf found that there are basic syntactic differences among language groups. Lee Whorf's hypothesis states that a culture's language structure dictates how the people will think and behave. Even more important, this hypothesis suggests that the way we see the world is shaped by the grammatical structure of the language.

Whorf spent much of his life studying the relationship between a culture's language and behavior. Like all cultures, the Hopi posses a reality, which defines their view of the world. In his time went with the Hopi, a large part of his emphasis had to do with their analysis of time. The Hopi perceived time much differently than most cultures, they perceive time as a process. Because of the perception, the Hopi never objectify time. For example, someone in the Hopi culture would never say, "Dinner is at 6:00". Our text said they perceive time as a phase "that is never here and now, but always moving, accumulating." (Littlejohn, 197)

In our culture there are three tenses which indicate locations or places in a spatial analogy: past, present, and future. The Hopi have no such thing as tense, the idea of duration and order eliminates this idea. In English we picture time as a line.

Because these linguistic differences are so strong, we (English speaking culture) perceive and behave toward time very differently. The Hopi spend a great deal of time preparing for things. These preparing activities accumulate as time gets late. The emphasis is on the entire experience, not on just one point in time of that experience. Again I will state that the Hopi do not objectify time, so experiences are not perceived in the same sense. We do not spend great deal of time preparing activities, we record events objectively in the past. Whorf summarizes this view by stating that cultures have their own, unique concepts of time and matter. This interesting notion is due to the fact that experiences depend upon the nature of the language which help us define experiences.

Noam Chomsky


Noam Chomsky a well-known linguist is the primary force behind generative grammar. "First, generative grammar rests 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. Old style linguists were powerful in describing the structure of a sentence, but it did not explain how sentences are actually produced by the speaker. Further, there is the suspicion that the surface structure of a sentence may actually mislead us about how sentences are really structured within the mind". (Littlejohn, 75)

Generative grammar also allows us a way to explain how a sentence can be generated. Originally linguists thought that after a sentence was diagramed, formally know as taxonomic syntactic theory this was the final stage. Noam Chomsky set out to prove that this system of diagraming was insufficient for describing a more complex sentence and that his system of diagraming was more efficient. "The grammar should provide a different breakdown or analysis for sentences which may appear alike but which are understood quite differently". (Theoretical Foundations, 43)

(1) John is easy to please

(2) John is eager to please

Although these sentences may sound the same and have the same sentence structure they are understood very differently. "Notice that (1) can be paraphrased as "It is easy to please John". When the same operation is performed on (2), however, the result is a drastic change in meaning- "It is eager to please John". (Theoretical Foundations, 43) Yet if you look at the diagram or tree that is dra>

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