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Lund University Centre for Cognitive Semiotics School of Linguistics Chris Sinha Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UK email@example.com. Lecture 6 Meaning and Materiality How language grounds symbolic cognitive artefacts. Part One.
Lund UniversityCentre for Cognitive SemioticsSchool of LinguisticsChris SinhaDepartment of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UKchristopher.firstname.lastname@example.org
Meaning and MaterialityHow language grounds symbolic cognitive artefacts
Language as a Social Fact and Social institution
“a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking, and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.” (Durkheim, 1982 ).
The objectivity of social facts thus consists in the fact they are independent of any single individual’s thoughts or will.
social facts are irreducible to psychological facts, structures or processes, though they depend upon these and influence them
Social facts are objects of shared, mutual, intersubjective knowledge
Language is a social fact (institution)
John Searle on social (institutional) facts:
X counts as Y in C (ontext)
Example: a twenty dollar bill counts as a monetary token with this particular exchange value.
NB: the note does not stand for or represent twenty dollars, it is twenty dollars. It is self-identical; its value is subtended by (though non-reducible to) its material existence. Destroy the note, you destroy the value.
The conditions on representation“To represent something … is to cause something else to stand for it, in such a way that both the relationship of ‘standing for’, and that which is intended to be represented, can be recognized.”(Sinha 1988: 37)
[X counts as S & S stands for M] in C
S = sign
M = meaning (signified)
This simple notation clarifies the “double articulation” of the sign, the conventional unity of substance and signification.
Note:C may now include Css, the sign system, and Cc, the community of users
1. Grammar (in the wide sense):
X counts as S in Css for Cc or
X counts as S in L
L = This language
S stands for M in L
Presupposing 1 & 2:
X counts as As in C
As = This speech act (including reference)
The semantic theory of meaning is underdetermined by this formulation, and need not be truth-functional, but is conventional and normative (as are all the subsystems)
Semantics is distinguished from pragmatics without necessitating a truth functional semantics
Contextual dependence characterises all subsystems, but does not erase the distinctions between them
Language as a social object has its own proper structure subtended by but irreducible to intentionality
How Language Grounds Symbolic Cognitive Artefacts
The body is our general medium for having a world … Sometimes the meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body’s natural means; it must then build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a cultural world.Merleau-Ponty 1962: 146.
Amplify human powers (Bruner)
Perception (telescope, telephone)
Made not found (cultural affordance)
Signify function or use value
Technologies may augment existing powers (bow and arrow)
They may potentiate new ones (needle and thread)
Constituting new practices (sewing)
And bringing into being new social relations
Eg print capitalism – Benedict Anderson
Artefacts have intentionally designed canonical functions (eg cup / containment)
The function is afforded by the artefact
Artefacts signify their canonical function by “counting as” (Searle) a category member, and being “perceived as” such
Symbolic cognitive artefacts also necessarily have a representational sign function
Vygotsky emphasized the importance of semiotic mediation in transforming cognition and cognitive development, focusing on the internalization of conventional signs originating in contexts of discursive practice.
He attributed great importance to the formative role of language in the emergence of “inner speech” and “verbal thought”, but his employment of the concept of semiotic mediation also encompassed the use of non-systematic signs, including objects-as-signifers (Vygotsky’s handkerchief)
He paid little attention to systematic, linguistically grounded cognitive artefacts
Material culture Symbolic culture
World directed Mind directed
Symbolic cognitive artefacts canonically support conceptual and symbolic processes in specific meaning domains
Examples: notational systems, dials, calendars, compasses
Cultural and cognitive schemas organizing e.g. time and number can be considered as dependent on, and hence constituted, not just expressed by, cognitive artefacts
Cognitive artefacts can now be defined as those artefacts that intentionally, canonically and materially incorporate or embody a representational sign function, often supporting the cognitive organization of a specific meaning domain
Vygotsky’s handkerchief (non-canonical)
A telephone (no sign function)
A computer (no intrinsic representational function)
Notational systems are by definition cognitive artefacts, grounded in the symbolic function of language
Many cognitive artefacts inherit their sign function from notational systems
In doing so they may constitute new conceptual domains (eg calendars and “Time as Such”)
The history of the human mind is the cultural history of the invention and use of symbolic cognitive artefacts, which materially bear and augment Tomasello’s “ratchet effect”
Domain-constituting cognitive artefacts are of particular significance, having dramatic transformativer effects on symbolic cognition
Cognitive artefacts in turn transform wider technologies and forces of production and potentiate new relations of production
Are languages cognitive artefacts?
No, because they are (for our species) found not made
But the prehistory of language is cognitive-artefactual as well as biological, and language is transformative of cognition
Language is a biocultural niche and social institution to which we have adapted in evolution, and which symbolically grounds cognitive artefacts that are also transformative of the biocultural niche
The cognitive sciences must move beyond the classical (individualist-mentalist) cognitivist paradigm, and take seriously the normativity constituting social life
Language and language learning are matters of participation and interaction in an intersubjective field constituted by symbolic, as well as non-symbolic, but signifying, artefacts
Embodiment extends beyond the body, meaning is grounded not just in brains, but also in the world