Place is the code

In cryptographic communication, a sender has a message in mind then converts that into a coded signal. The sender dispatches the signal through a communication channel and it is picked up by a recipient who decodes the message. The coding and decoding algorithms at either end of the channel select from an array of alternative…More

Hidden dimensions

Cryptography hides messages from the senses, observation and interpretation. It belongs within an array of practices that fit comfortably within the field of semiotics. I’m content to think that cryptographic practices extend C.S. Peirce’s semiological pragmatism. After all, messages hidden in code are signs. On the subject of messaging, I’m also interested in hiddenness as…More

Less is more: Signatures, cities and hash codes

In 1997, the Hubble Space Telescope’s Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) picked up the signature of a black hole. Instead of a vertical straight scan line, the STIS showed an S shape. Signatures point to the presence of something (a referent). But you see the thing only indirectly, i.e. you get to know that the referent exists,…More

COVID couture

Why cover your nose and mouth with fabric during an epidemic? Apart from any practical advantages, and disadvantages, a face mask is a sign. Whether or not they are effective in blocking viruses, (non-surgical) face masks transmit messages. Before the current crisis I wrote a book on the founder of semiotics Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914).…More

Wild signs (Africa edition)

As anyone who walks, treks, or rambles in the countryside knows, nature is replete with messages. Animals deposit and pick up trails and traces. They communicate within and across groups, populations, species and families. They broadcast, narrowcast, and live stream messages to friends, rivals, predators and prey, deliberately, inadvertently, or even falsely. Not all channels…More

Trash talk

Like most urban commuters I have learned to tune out other people’s mobile phone conversations. But when I’m forced to attend to one-sided overloud jibber-jabber the interlocutor may as well be speaking in code. “She said that? … He did it then. … Ask him to give it to me when I’m there.” Deixis Deictic…More

This man has a sign

The semiotic philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce said enigmatically that “man is a sign” (54). I’ve referred to this in a previous post. This statement hints at something significant about the use of language. We humans are capable of profound transformation under the operations of the sign. But I find it easier to think in terms…More

Hustle, twitter, bells and banter

Free beer! C.S. Peirce and semioticians make much of the meaningful call out of someone like a street vendor. A cry or call out from someone giving away, selling or hustling goods at a market fits one of Peirce’s sign categories. To be precise, it is a kind of dicent indexical legisign. The sign is complete…More

Rhematic architecture

For the non-linguist, the rheme is one of the most difficult concepts in semiotics. It is not in architecture’s lexicon, and it’s hard to think of its relevance outside of language study. In fact, in material culture (e.g. architecture) we are more comfortable with the structure of metaphor than with the theme-rheme structure, as I…More

Full indexical jacket

Art in the 1970s shifted to the indexical, according to Rosalind Krauss, and away from the symbolic. “As distinct from symbols, indexes establish their meaning along the axis of a physical relationship to their referents. They are the marks or traces of a particular cause, and that cause is the thing to which they refer,…More