A Semiotic Modern Synthesis: Conducting Quantitative Studies in Zoosemiotics and Interpreting Existing Ethological Studies through a Semiotic Framework

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Abstract

In this paper, I present an argument that quantitative behavioural analysis can be used in zoosemiotic studies to advance the field of biosemiotics. The premise is that signs and signals form patterns in space and time, which can be measured and analysed mathematically. Whole organism sign processing is an important component of the semiosphere, with individual organisms in their Umwelten deriving signs from, and contributing to, the semiosphere, and vice versa. Moreover, there is a wealth of data available in the traditional ethology literature which can be reinterpreted semiotically and drawn together to make a cohesive biosemiotic whole. For example, isolated signals, such as structural elements of birdsong, are attributed meaning by an interpreter, thus generating new ideas and hypotheses in both biology and semiotics. Furthermore, animal behaviour science has developed numerous test paradigms that with careful adaptation, could be suitable for use within a Peircean tripartite model, and thus give valuable insights into Umwelten of other species. In my conclusion, I suggest that by bringing together traditional ethology and biosemiotics, it is possible to use the Modern Synthesis to provide context to biosemiosis, thus pragmatic meaning to animal signals. On this basis, I propose updating the Modern Synthesis to a Semiotic Modern Synthesis, which focuses on whole-organism signals and their contexts, the latter being derived from neo-Darwinian theory and the ‘Umwelt’. Thus, there need be no dichotomy; the Modern Synthesis can successfully be integrated with biosemiotics.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiosemiotics
Early online date20 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 20 Jul 2021

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