Tag Archives: semiotics


Innis on Benveniste:

According to Innis, Benveniste critiques Saussure for being ambiguous, vague, and imprecise because he did not clearly formulate why language is most important semiological system and how it is 226.

Russian semiotics attempts to address the question: “just how far can other sign systems, which exist in a vast array and with amazing complexity, model themselves on language?” 226

Benveniste identifies the following characteristics of a binary semiological system:
External empirical conditions:
a. mode of expression-manner in which system acts
b. domain of its validity—area in which system imposes itself and must be recognized or obeyed

Internal semiotic conditions:
c. nature and number of signs–
d. type of operation—relationship that unites signs and confers their distinguishing function upon them

ex. Traffic Light
mode of operation/epression—visual
domain of its validity—vehicular traffic on highways
nature and number of signs—chromatic oppositions between colors
type of operation—relationship of alternation, red , green; stop , go, stop, go,

all kinds of sign systems work on these same features.

His ultimate goal is to delineate and situate the various “orders of semiotic relationships” 226.

Benveniste studies binary system of traffic lights, music, and plastic arts. He delineates the formal principles of sign systems, on the model of language, and then studies the interchangeability between various systems. He determines that every semiotic system based on signs includes:
a. finite reparatory of signs
b. rule of order governing its figures
c. existing independently of the nature and number of the discourses that the system allows to be produced.

He concludes that language is the quintessential interpreting system, that it explains function of a sign, and it alone offers and exemplary formula of the sign. It comprises the meaning of signs and the meaning of enunciation 227.

Benveniste distinguishes between semiotic and semantic dimensions of language:
Semiotic—relations of signs to one another
Semantic—referential or enunciatory domain

This distinction permits larger domain of discourse and creates (heads up, Trish!) a “metasemantics.” The instruments and methods of this ‘second generation’ of semiotics contributes to other branches of general semiology 227.

“The Semiology of Language” Benveniste

Beneviste critiques Pierce for not distinguishing between the sign and the signified, which is necessary to avoid the simulacrum of signs (See Baudrilard). “Each sign must be included and articulated within a system of signs” –the condition of signification 229.

Benveniste credits Saussure for coming up with linguistic science. To find out “what is both integral and concrete objects of linguistics,” Sausssure identifies several methodological requirements:
a. language (la langue) must be separated from human speech

Sausuurre says semiology is a science that studies the life of the signs within society -231

Language is dual in nature: it is a social institution and a continuous discourse .

There are certain fundamental principles Benveniste identifies pertaining to relationships between semiotic systems:
Principle of nonredundancy—semiotic systems are not synonymous due to the nonconvertability of systems with different bases or in other words, the different functions of signs. Value of sign is defined only in the system which incorporates it 235

Methodological conditions for studying relationships between semiotic systems:
a. Same cultural background since cultural backgrounds influence sign systems.
b. Semiotic relationship between systems is expresses as relationship between interpreting system and interpreted system. Langague is interpreting system of society that can interpret signs. Signs can’t interpret language.

Music if considered language has syntactic features not semiotic ones. No music system or chosen sound scale. – 237 plastic arts have no unit of system.

Very important: “a system must designate the units it brings into play in order to produce meaning and to specify the nature of the meaning produced” – 238

Language is composed of units, and these units are signs. But units are not always signs. Signs are always units though.

In music, sound is unit, but sound is not sign (does not have meaning in itself)

Systems of signifying units = language. Systems of nonsignifying units = music.

Systems in which meaning is expressed by the initial elements in an isolated state, independently of the interrelationships which they may undergo (meaning is inherent in signs themselves) language


Systems in which meaning is imparted by the author to composition (meaning emerges from relationships forming a closed world) art 238

Every semiology of a nonlinguistic system must use language as an intermediary,

Language is thus the interpreting system of all other systems!!! 238 no other system has ability to categorize and interpret itself according to its semiotic distinctions 240

Language is semiotic in is formal structure and its functioning:
1. to speak is to speak about
2. comprised of distinct units, each of which is a sign
3. produced and accepted with same values of reference by all members of a community (IS THIS TRUE?)
4. only actualization of intersubjective communication (IS THIS TRUE?) 241

Language is invested with double meaning—combines two distinct modes of meaning, a semiotic and semantic mode

Semiotic mode:

Semiotic research = identification of units, description of characteristic features, discovery of distinct characteristics. 242

Sign exists when recognized as signifier by all members of linguistic community who understand associations and oppositions 242

Semantic mode:

Meaning is generated by discourse in semantic mode. Meaning is actualized and divided into specific signs, words. Semantic order identified when enunciated and within discourse. – 242.

Semiotics must be recognized; semantics must be understood. Recognition vs. comprehension.

Language system is only system that operates in both modes. Art, semantics, not semiotics.

Sausurre only has developed basic foundation for semiotics. We need to study the semantic domain as well in order to truly understand how language operates.

Benveniste identifies three kinds of relationships that exist between semiotic systems:
a. one system can generate another system
b. homology—correlation between parts of a semiotic system exists. Intuitive vs. rational; conceptual vs. poetic. Two linguistic structures of different makeup can reveal partial or extended homologies. Thus homology serves as a unifying principle between two fields
c. relationship of interpretance– relationship between interpreting system and interpreted system. 240

Benveniste says language alone permits society to exist; language hold all relationships together, which in turn, create society; language contains society – 240

Benveniste’s “The nature of the linguistic sign” in Cobly.

Begins by explaining what Saussure means when he says the sign is arbitrary. What he really means is that the bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary because the bond is unmotivated; the bond has no natural connection. Sister could be sos in one language and butt in another (my example).

Benvensiste says should we characterize the sign as arbitrary though? “There is a contradiction between the way in which Saussure defined the linguistic sign and the fundamental nature which he attributed to it.” 64

Yes, semiotics is science of signs, but really semiotics is science of forms. Signs really are contingent, not arbitrary. Yes, Saussure is right to point out one arbitrary nature of signs that exists to some extent if we agree any word could have been spelled any way. But really is this point helpful for us understanding how signs operate?

Benveniste says the connection between the signifier (sign) and the signified (concept) is not arbitrary. It is necessary. After all the “mind only accepts a sound form that incorporates a representation identifiable for it” – 65

Benvensiste says what Sausurre did that was so important was to show how the sign is both mutabile (always can change to it arbitrary nature) and immutable (being arbitrary, it can’t be challenged in name of rational norm) at once. What Saussure did not touch upon was the objective motivation of the designation to the action of various historical factors. 67

“The choice that invokes a certain sound slice for a certain ideas is not at all arbitrary.” 68

value of sign is relative to value of other signs. Language is a system of signs. A system implies an “arrangement or conformity of parts in a structure which transcends and explains its elements” 68 systems comprise necessity. “Values are values of opposition and are defined by their difference.” Necessity gives shape to opposition. -68

“The absolute character of the linguistic sign thus understood commands in its turn the dialectical necessity of values of constant opposition, and forms the structural principle of language” – 69

Colby’s introduction to Benveniste’s discussion of category of person in linguistics:

Pronouns give rise to linguistic phenomenon of deixis—direct situation in which utterance happens. Benveniste proves language use is dependent on context/situation at hand.

Summarizes Benveniste’s argument on the nature of pronouns. Then speaks to jakobson and kress’ contributions.

Jakobson says code is conceived as specific language use determined by addresser and addressee..

Also, another main point: Kress, Benveniste, and Jakobson all point out that the social influence of language use.

Benveniste “The nature of pronouns”

Most use of nouns refer to fixed and objective notion and identical with mental image it awakens. But not pronouns. I and YOU have no stable, fixed signified. Same with here, there, this and that, today, yesterday, etc. They are indicators.

Benveniste also points to dual function of the category “I”—“I” has a referrant (the utterer) but also has a referee (linguistic category of person which appears in parole) first is human second is item of language. One is human. Other is alphabet.

The importance of these types of pronoun’s functions is its permission of intersubjective communication. They are the basis of individual discourse. They are appropriated by speaker in an instance of discourse.- 288-289

Verb forms because of tenses, gender, person, etc. are dependent on instance as well.

Third person is exception to Beneviste’s deictic rules. They refer to an objective situation. Some verbs too such as he did. Syntactic representations he calls them. They function as economy of language rather than as indicators. 290

Therefore, what Benveniste concludes is for the need to distinguish between “language as a repertory of signs and a system for combining them and, on the other, language as an activity manifested in instances of discourse which are characterized as such by particular signs” – 290

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