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Language and Language-based Codes

Language and Language-based

A Seminar in Semiotics

Language and Language-based Codes

Language and Language - based codes

Verbal Communication
Language in a semiotic frame: The aim is to investigate
language in relation to semiotics. This in turn, leads to the
question of the scope of linguistics. Explicitly semiotic approaches
to language aim at extending the scope of linguistics in order to
account for the relation between language and other sign systems.
The relation between linguistics and semiotics is mutually
exclusive, one part-whole relationship, one of interpretation, and
one of heuristic (investigative) relevance.
The former relation, (mutually exclusive is the least beneficial.
Semiotics as a Part of Linguistics:
Barthes and also Hjelmslev both provocatively proposed a theory
of semiotics as a branch of linguistics .In this view; linguistics is
extended to include the level of the text i.e. semiotics is reduced
to the study of textual structures only. Hjelmslev argues that
language is a semiotic into which all other semiotics may be
translated". However, it should be mentioned here that Hjelmslev
in this context, he referred to semiotic systems in general rather
than natural languages, but this view has been rejected from the
point of view of general semiotics.
Perspective Interpretation:
If semiotics is accepted as the general theory of signs, such
theoretical perspective can be applied to every field of language.
However, core fields of linguistics such as morphology, lexicology
and syntax have a tradition which is largely independent of
general semiotics. But there are fields which are naturally
dependent on semiotics and require semiotic extension; these
fields are semantics and pragmatics.
Linguistics as the Pilot Science of Semiotics
It has been argues that Linguistics as a discipline has a higher
degree of development than semiotics and therefore need to be

Language and Language-based Codes

used as a guideline in the more recent field of semiotics. Those
who follow this perspective are:
Saussure, he deems language as the patron general for the
study of other sign systems.
Bloomfield represents the view that linguistics is the chief
contributor to semiotic
Weinreich refers to natural language as the ' semiotic
phenomenon par excellence.
Structurally, Benveniste states three aspects in which language
contributes to semiotic:
Generative relationship, i.e. language generates other semiotic
sign systems.
Homology (isomorphism)
Interpretance (i.e. language is the interpreting system of all
other semiotic systems).
Semiotic Extensions of Linguistics
This topic includes foundations for the extension of traditional
linguistics as a semiotic approach to language, it includes seven
- Semiotics as the theory of language (In traditional logic
semiotic is a philosophical theory of language).
- Sign theoretical foundations of language (semiotic
linguistics is concerned with the structure of the language
- The pragmatic framework of linguistics (i.e. relating
signs to their interpreters).
- The text semiotic extensions of Linguistics (the semiotic
approach to language begins with text semiotics).
- The cultural framework of language (extending the
study to include the cultural framework).
- The study of Nonvocal languages (extension from vocal
to Nonvocal languages as a major concern in semiotic
- Semiogenesis and Language (study of the evolutionary
roots of language).
Semioticians in Linguistics and Linguists in Semiotics:

Language and Language-based Codes

Pierce is considered as the major figure in semiotics whose work is
influential in linguistics. Saussure, on the other hand, along with
Hjelmslev, Jakobson and Karl Buhler, their works are considered
semiotic. Halliday and Shaumyan have proposed a semiotic
his studies are
sociosemiotici.e. language is a product of a social process
.Shaumyan proposes A Semiotic Theory of Language using
applicative Universal Grammar.
Design Features (DF) of Language: Semiotics draws the
attention of linguists to the new frontier of a theory "capable of
explaining the characteristics of human language". Several
attempts have been made to achieve this goal by contrasting
human language with nonlinguistic semiotic systems. The most
influential proposal in this context is Hockett's list of design
features. Hockett developed a list of 16 design features of
language, by comparing languages with communicative systems
of various animal species; He divided these features according to
their semiotic features:
DFs Relating to the Channel
DF 1: Vocal/Auditory Channel: Language is produced by means of
the vocal tract. The signals are received through the ears.
DF 2: Broadcast Transmission and Directional Reception: Sound
moves in all directions from its source and can pass around
obstacles. The receiver is able to
locate the direction of the source of speech.
DF 3: Rapid Fading: Spoken signals vanish quickly, leaving the
channel free for further messages.
DFs of the Pragmatic Dimension
DF 4: Interchangeability. Adult members of a speech community
can be both senders and receivers of messages.
DF 5: Complete Feedback. The speaker can hear immediately, and
thus monitor by feedback, his or her own message. Together with
DF 4, total feedback has also
a social dimension.
DF 6: Specialization. The act of speaking is specialized to the
communicative functions of language. Speaking does not serve
any additional physiological functions. It requires little physical

Language and Language-based Codes

effort, and its energetic consequences are biologically irrelevant.
The speaker is free to perform other activities while speaking.
DFs of the Semantic Dimension
DF 7: Semanticity. In his view, human language is a semantic
system of communication because its elements have "associative
ties with things and situations, or types of things and situations, in
the environment of its users."
DF 8: Arbitrariness. The signal - object relationship is arbitrary and
not iconic.
DF 9: Displacement. The language sign can refer to objects
remote in time and space.
DF 10: Prevarication. We can say things that are false or
meaningless. Eco considers this feature to be characteristic of
semiosis in general.
DF 11: Reflexiveness. Language can be used to communicate
about language. This is Jakobson's metalinguistic function.
Semiogenetic Features
DF 12: Tradition. The conventions of language are passed down
by teaching and learning, not through the germ plasm. Language
is thus acquired by culture, not by
DF 13: Learnability. The speaker of one language can learn
another language.
Characteristics of the Code
DF 14: Discreteness. The sign repertoire consists of discrete and
recurrent units. There is no gradation of linguistic elements in
terms of more or less. The units of
language are not continuous.
DF 15: Productivity or Openness: "New linguistic messages are
coined freely and easily, and, in context, are usually understood."
Productivity is primarily due to the
syntax of language. New messages are generated by the creative
combination of linguistic signs.
DF 16: Duality of Patterning. This is the feature which
semioticians, following Martinet (1949), also refer to by the term
double articulation. The discussion of this key concept of

Language and Language-based Codes

linguistics and the semiotic theory of codes requires a separate
paragraph (see 4.1).
Design features
of language

to Channel



tic features

ics of the






n and








Duality of


Of the previous 16 DFs, Hockett regards

only four can be
considered central and to some extent unique of human
languages, these are: openness, displacement, duality, and
traditional transmission.
As an anthropo-semiotic framework, Mounin speaks of six
features of human language:
1- Function of Communication.
2- Arbitrariness.

Language and Language-based Codes

3- Being a system.
4- Linearity.(unlike visual communication)
5- Discreteness.
6- Double articulation.
Osgood (1980) proposes as system of defining characteristics of
languages relying on theoretical, behavioristic and comparative
linguistic considerations.
Language as a Code
Two important directions of influence between semiotics of
language and the theory of codes are discussed. The first is that
double articulation has become essential for the study of other
semiotic systems; the other is that "language as a code", has led
to the belief that language is derived from more general theories
of codes and information, since code is synonymous to system.
Double Articulation: This principle has often been considered as
the single distinguishing feature of human language. Martinet's
theory states that articulation means structuring which involves
two levels: 1st articulation, a message is structured into meaningful
units consisting of the signifier and the signified (monemes), 2 nd
articulation, structuring the phonetic signifiers of the monemes
into non-signifying but distinctive phonemes. Some other scholars
proposed rather different approach which can be illustrated as
Duality of patterning

1st Articulation

2nd Articulation

The language Code: Code and system are used interchangeably

in linguistics; Saussure once spoke of language as a code in his
dichotomy of langue/parole. Jakobson proposed to restate these
concepts in terms of message /code. Several scholars rejected the
term language Code emphasizing the difference between natural
languages and artificial codes. Code implies psycholinguistic
processes of encoding, storage, and decoding of language.
The Language Code as Sign Repertoire

Language and Language-based Codes

As sign repertoires, codes consist of a homogenous and closed set
of unambiguous symbols. Language however, is an open system
of semantically flexible signs. To overcome these implications,
Jacobson have introduced two modifications of the concept of code
in linguistics. He proposed the Dynamic view of language, as a
diversified code, its overall code includes a set of sub- codes. The
sub-codes of languages are its functional varieties (dialects,
idiolects, styles, etc.).
Bernstein's sociolinguistic "code theory" of the 1960s distinguishes
between the "general code" and the "speech codes" of individuals
of social groups.
Codes as Rules of Semiotic Transformation : Jacobson
described encoding as a transformation of meanings (signata)
into sounds (signantia). It is a true principle that, in semiotics,
expression/content, signifier/signified are inseparable. One can
neither divide sound from thought nor thought from sound.
Arbitrariness and Motivation :
In Saussures words, the linguistic sign is arbitrary, Hockett
considers arbitrariness as the defining feature of language. The
thesis of conventionality of words is precursor to Saussurean
dogma. Socrates admitted that words cannot be completely
arbitrary, since, in naming, we cannot follow our own will. Such
conventionality is discussed as a pragmatic dimension regarding
its role in social semiotic behavior. Wittingstein argues that if
language is to be a means of communication, there must be
agreement, language is founded on convention. And grammatical
rules are based on grammatical conventions. Social agreement is
not agreement in opinions but in form of life.
commanding and baptizing) as conventional. Searle, on the other
hand, distinguishes between conventions and rules, while he
further divides rules into Regulative (etiquette or clothing) and
constitutive (like the rules of chess or football).
Foundations of Arbitrariness:
Precursors: Locke already used this term words signify by a
perfect arbitrary imposition". Saussure took this thesis from

Language and Language-based Codes

Whitney who states an internal and necessary tie between the
word and idea is absolutely non-existent for the learner. However,
Saussure warned that the choice of the signifier is not left entirely
to the speaker. Arbitrariness is not freedom of choice, but it means
the unmotivated nature of the sign. In the Saussurean concept,
arbitrariness indicates also the conventionality of the language
system (the community is essential in the existence and
acceptance of signs).
Against this principle, Benveniste postulates the principle of
necessity of the linguistic sign; it depends on the psychological
association between the two sides of the linguistic sign.
Arbitrariness: Relation of Sense or Reference?
In Saussurean principle, arbitrariness is a matter of sense only,
i.e. the relationship between the signifier and the signified.
Arbitrariness in the Triadic Model of the sign is necessarily
referential. if the signifier is arbitrary with respect to the referent
and if the signified is necessarily linked to the signifier , the
signified must also be considered arbitrary.
Absolute vs. Relative Arbitrariness: In Saussure terms, words
such as ten, sheep, or apple exhibit absolute arbitrariness, while
compound words such as fifteen, shepherd, or apple tree are
examples of relative arbitrariness. Besides, all rules of grammar
restrict arbitrariness and introduce motivation into the system of
Degrees of Arbitrariness: Peirce classified signs with respect to
their referential dimension into:

Higher degree of
arbitrariness, than
the index .It
requires higher
degree of cultural


A sign of

A conventional sign,
characterized by
highest degree of
arbitrariness, like
natural signs ( ex.
Smoke= fire).

Language and Language-based Codes

As a branch of nonverbal communication, it is the study of vocal
signals beyond the verbal message in the narrower sense. In the
broadest sense, it comprises seven areas, the broadest of which
are (1-non-human and human vocalizations, and 2-non-vocal as
well as vocal features of human communication).However,
paralanguage in the narrower sense will be adopted here, i.e.
(human vocalizations only).
Paralanguage is not concerned with gestures for examples
because gestures convey messages independent of language.
Paralanguage is communication that occurs with verbal
messages. Paralinguistic messages are supra-segmental and
thus not inherent in the words. From a linguistic point of view, the
borderline between linguistics and para-linguistics is expressed as




Language and Language-based Codes

Historically, and from a purely semiotic point of view,
paralanguage was one of the steps in the extension of structural
linguistics toward a semiotic theory of human communication.
Rauch locates para-linguistics between linguistics and semiotics,
since it is concerned with indexical signs.




Writing has been neglected in language studies, except for its
historical dimension. Within a semiotic framework, writing has
further dimensions of interest to philosophy, cultural anthropology,
and mass media.
As an evolutionary process, there are two basic options for the
development of writing systems these can be best exemplified as


Language and Language-based Codes

Semantic Unit


Phonetic Unit

Phoneme or

In Hjelmslevs terminology, the semantic unit is Pleremic

writing while the phonetic unit is Cenemic one.
Defining Features of Spoken and Written Language
Uses vocal-auditory channel
Broadcast transmission
treatment of content.
Rapid fading

Uses visual channel ( fails in the
Directional reception
the Highly
higher energetic effort, more
freedom in editing and revising.
information storage.

In addition to the communicative function which is shared by

the spoken mode, writing, as a semiotic mode, serves the

Language and Language-based Codes

Semiotic Function of Writing

Poetic function

Like calligraphy, marked
letter forms in
architecture and

Secret and magic forms

of writing like
Hieroglyphic writing and
sacred carvings.

Writing and Speech: Autonomy vs. Heteronomy: The

question of whether the grapheme is a sign or not depends heavily
on the autonomy or heteronomy of writing. Therefore, for those
who follow the autonomous view, written segments the size of a
word or morpheme are signs of writing. While a heteronomous
view considers the single letter as having the status of a sign
which refers to a phoneme. The primacy of writing over spoken
mode has been dealt with in terms of Phono-centrism or
Universal language (ULs): To overcome the shortcomings of
linguistic features of arbitrariness and tradition, hundreds of
Universal Languages have been proposed or developed during the
history of semiotics. The roots of semiotic dimensions for ULs are
simplified below:
Semiotic Dimensions of ULs


In search of Lingua
Humana., (to solve
the tower of Babel

Language Evolution
As a form of Linguistic
evolution which objects
adoption of UL, since UL
will eventually change
and lose its universality
by virtue of evolution.

Impossibility of
achieving ideal
conditions of
learnability and

Language and Language-based Codes

Typology of ULs (Priori and Posteriori)

Priori UL: Using artificial elements and structures invented
independently for any existing natural language.
Posteriori UL: Composed of elements from one or several
historical languages with the goal of creating a simpler, more
regular and easier to learn language.
Media proposed for ULs projects are speech; alphabetic writing
and numbers are the major, other means are also suggested like
music and pictographs.
Sign Language
Sign languages (SLs) in the narrower sense are semiotic systems
of gestural communication with the communicative potential of a
spoken language. Such gestural languages have been developed
in contexts where speech is not available (as in SL of the deaf), or
where speech is forbidden (as in monastic SLs), or as a universal
language for people of different native languages.
In the very broad sense, SL is used as a synonym of semiotic
systems in general.
SLs differ from spoken languages in that they are visu-centric and
lacking the ability to discuss in-depth abstract themes, while,
spoken language is phono-centric, creative and expressive of
abstract themes.
Language Substitutes
Language substitutes are secondary codes whose signs are
molded on the form of primary linguistic code. Language
substitutes include speech surrogates such as drum and whistle
languages, as derivatives of speech. Such surrogates are utilized
in contexts delimited by geographical distribution and
communicative function.
Alphabetic Codes

Language and Language-based Codes

Examples of Alphabetic Codes:


a-Morse code.
b-Braille code.
The binary code of the alphabet.