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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Emperor's New Semiotics

Wikipedia defines it as, "the study of cultural sign processes (semiosis), analogy, metaphor, signification and communication, signs and symbols." Umberto Eco claims, "that every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication." All very well and good. But exactly what does this "study" consist of? What methodologies are used? Where is an example of an insight that can be gained from its application? Methinks the Emperor, looks more than a little naked.

Everyone seems to believe that such insights from semiotic analysis is possible, and perhaps it is, but so far, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that it has ever been achieved.

In addition, many of these people claim to be experts on linguistics. You'd think that a good linguist would be pretty good at communicating their message concisely. So why are the books on "semiology" described as "dense," or "hard to understand," even by their proponents? What's wrong with this picture?

I certainly don't deny that there may be concepts that are ineffable. The question is though, can they somehow be communicated, and if so-- in at least some cases, shouldn't there be some way to tell? A single example of this would provide a huge amount of credibility to post-structuralist "thought." And if you can't tell, then what use are such "ineffable" concepts, being essentally indistinguishable from nothing at all? Oh yes, there is one use-- as a scapegoat. The same one the medum uses to explain why she can't contact your aunt Margaret, when the skeptic is sitting at the table. An apologetic for the inability to produce, and most convenient. Linguistic obscurantism offered as proof that there are some ideas that are beyond linguistics.

My linguistic analysis of "semiotics" is-- "elusive," "evasive," "devoid," and "voodoo."