remarks on a seemingly hasty and confused NPR piece
about "symbols" and evolution:
I’m persuaded that we do better to theorise about meaning on the broader, more prevalent evidence of non-verbal expression and inference.
As AKMA notes, NPR's Alix Spiegel enjoys making huge radio leaps in causality and time without acknowledging that we are leaping. I would merely note that this seems in line with numerous other signs of flimsy, careless, and negligent editorial oversight inside the All Things Considered
production effort. Not the first time to wonder if the program should be named Certain Things Adverted To Via Single Source Marketeers, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Punishingly Cute RadioTricks
One problem with the piece is, it mushes various signifying modes into one catchall word, "symbol." An entire field
deriving from Pierce and de Saussure in the last century tried to make some headway in sorting out different modes of signification, even as grammar theory and rhetorical analysis looked more closely at the conditions of making meaning, the tricks of arranging signifiers and the tropes that mould, bend, and transfer signification. But hey, this is NPR radio, we're doing science here, not egghead, or even eggcorn,
stuff not on the radar of our sponsors.
My question for AKMA is, to what extent he views "non-verbal expression and inference" to be distinct from linguistic entanglement. That is, are we to view verbal language as a subset of a larger realm of signifying powers that may use different sensory and expressive means, but share, at some more basic level, the same structures that produce meaning? Or is it more a matter of other modes of representing meaning that fall completely outside the material, means, and ends of verbal forms and communicative structures?
I ask because while it certainly seems worth saying that the study of meaningful articulations all too frequently remains narrowly concerned with verbal forms of language, it seems equally fair to suggest that in our haste to comprehend all kinds of signs, artifacts, and modes of expression within terms like "symbol," we tend to minimize the role of words, of linguistic structures. We tend to see the verbal element as non-problematic, which might be the same as saying we tend to not see them at all. We overlook our linguistic medium with all its peculiar properties and peculiarities and still not very well understood manners of development in time, we take its apparent transparency for an open window, and leap to conclusions about evidence, truth, objectivity, and so forth with NPR-like ease.
So that's my question to AKMA, who has a longstanding
fascination with non-verbal expression,
but not just to him -- to you as well, allthingsconsidering reader: If human nature
involves making signs, do our modes of expression in all their multifarious glory relate to the verbal order, and if so, how, or do they seem to you to exist free from it?
Labels: AKMA, NPR, semiotics, signification, signs