Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Gesellschaftliche Reproduktion und kulturelle Innovation. Aus semiotischer Sicht / Social Reproduction and Cultural Innovation. From a Semiotic Point of View

Social Reproduction and Language as Work and "Modeling Device": Contributions to Socioeconomic and Cultural Innovation from Rossi-Landi and Sebeok

Susan Petrilli (Università degli Studi di Bari)



The paper is divided into three parts: 1. Rossi-Landi's and Sebeok's work on signs and language. 2. "Language as work" and "language as primary modelling". 3. Contributions to sociosemiotic as semioethics by Rossi-Landi and Sebeok.

1. An illegitimate use of abstraction and of the relation between "abstract object" and "totality" consists in maintaining that an abstract object covers and exhausts the characteristics of a totality otherwise ignored or left in the dark. But Rossi-Landi and Sebeok take a stand against this fallacy, that is, the pars pro toto error. Choice of the term "semiotics" instead of "semiology" to indicate the general science of signs does not simply express a terminological preference. Semiology as the study of post- and translinguistic sign systems must not be confused with semiotics as the general science of signs, that is, of all types of signs. Both Rossi-Landi and Sebeok avoid identifying semiotics with semiology thus understood, consequently they both free the study of signs from semiological glottocentrism. According to Rossi-Landi's approach, semiotics offers a theoretical site where separatism among the sciences may at last be overcome. Sebeok too worked in a similar direction with his critique of the concept of bridge, which he substituted with the concept of web.

2. According to Rossi-Landi to speak of linguistic work does not simply mean to establish an analogy with nonlinguistic work. On the contrary, Rossi-Landi demonstrated that work and language are interconnected by a relation of homology. Language is work. According to this approach the two definitions of man as laborans and as loquens coincide. Natural divisions that oblige one to assign verbal work and nonverbal work, the production of messages and the production of merchandise to separate regions do not in fact exist. In both cases we are dealing with semiosis, with the linguistic work of modelling. On the basis of such a claim it is possible to establish a connection between Rossi-Landi's concept of work, on the one hand, and the concepts of primary, secondary and tertiary modelling as elaborated by Sebeok, on the other. Similarly to Sebeok, Rossi-Landi criticized those theories that reduce the problem of the origin of language to the problem of communication.

3. Rossi-Landi worked for an approach to semiotics that was to focus on social planning, on the critique of ideology, therefore on the human capacity for constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing new and better worlds. From this point of view, Rossi-Landi's work may be associated to an approach in sociosemiotics conceived by the present author with Augusto Ponzio and denominated "semioethics". But Sebeok's global semiotics also contributes to this critical approach in sociosemiotics we have called semioethics if we connect its global perspective with today's socio-economic context, that is, the context of global communication-production. Global semiotics focuses on the interconnection among signs and demonstrates the relation of interdependency among all life forms over the planet. The specific human modelling device Sebeok has indicated as language subtends deconstruction and reconstruction, the human capacity to produce many possible worlds, the capacity for semiotics, with the ensuing capacity for evaluation, responsibility, inventiveness, planning, criticism. This capacity renders the semiotic animal completely responsible not only for social reproduction, but also for life over the whole planet, the two things of course being inseparable.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-09