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Mortelmans Dimitri :
Re: TUT: SIGN;
Wed, 12 Jun 1996 11:13:20 PDT

I am glad Katya started the terminology discussion yesterday. As a
sociologist I only recently came in touch with the field of semiotics. I
read around in Barthes, Eco and some basic works, finding the same
terminological dispersal. I would like to join this initiative since I
believe that, looking from my own domain, sociology could be enriched with a
unified semiotic framework. And even if there still remains enormous
difficulties, we could at least know what we do agree upon.

John Fiske's definition, as Paul presented it, seems a good start for
defining the sign concept. There are, in my opinion, two problems with this
sign-definition.

First, the 'something other than itself' need also to be something physical
(perceivable to our senses, as Fiske names it). If one does not accept this,
I think we could end up with a deconstructionist idea of the sign in which
sings get their meaning by referring to other signs, which in their turn
refer to other signs. At the end we need to arrive at the physical reality,
if not we end up in a sort of idealism.
Further, Fiske avoids the question of the content of the sign. If we would
like to come to a unified concept of the sign, isn't it necessary to situate
at least the two most widespread uses of the concept ? Shouldn't this new
concept be dealing with both the Saussurean and the Peircian idea of the
sign. In his 'Introduction to communication studies', Fiske is placing both
Peirce and Saussure after one another, as most semiotic handbooks do. I do
not know enough about the Peircian concept to propose a synthesis.
Umberto Eco wrote however a book about the sign. In that book he gives a
visual representation of sign-conceptions derived from several authors. If I
select only Peirce and Saussure, it gives something like this:

                        interpretant (Peirce)
                        concept (Saussure)
                        image mental (Saussure, Peirce)
                           /\
                          /  \
                         /    \
  signe (Peirce)         ------    object (Peirce)
  representamen (Peirce)
  signifiant (Saussure)

Since I only have the French translation (I do not know if there is an
English version available) I presented the French terms from the book. The
translation should be something like: image mentale=mental image;
signe=sign; signifiant=signifier)

Is there within semiotics an agreement about the synonymy of these terms ?
Is it possible to insert them side by side in one definition ? Or are there
some incompatible difficulties ? (Off course Saussure does not imply the
material reality (the object) in his sign concept, but I rather mean the two
other sides of the triangle (I hope this ASCII drawing will arrive as a
triangle to everybody).

Dimitri
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Dimitri Mortelmans (R2.20)
Departement Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen
Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen
Universiteitsplein 1                    e-mail: mortel@uia.ua.ac.be
2610 Wilrijk                            voice : 03/820.28.58.
Belgium                                 fax   : 03/820.28.82.
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