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75 - Semiotics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

David Scott
Affiliation:
Trinity College Dublin.
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Summary

As Théophile Gautier writes in his Voyage en Espagne (1840), travellers are ‘grands lecteurs d'enseignes’ (great readers of signs). This is because different cultures, languages and indigenous codes, in presenting alternative semiological systems, challenge the traveller's presuppositions in relation both to identifying signs and to interpreting them. As Semiotics or Semiology is the study of signs, each traveller or travel writer becomes, like Gautier in 1840, consciously or unconsciously a budding semiotician. Two theoretical sources in particular enable the modern traveller and the reader of travel writing to facilitate the analysis of what is at stake in this situation. The first theory is articulated in European semiology or sémiologie as derived from the science of linguistics pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) and published posthumously in his Cours de linguistique générale (1916). The second is American, Semiotics, and is inspired by the work of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) as expressed in writings scattered across his works published fully only from the second half of the twentieth century. Saussurian semiology brings with it the valuable significant/signifié (signifier/signified) distinction which, in differentiating the form of the sign from its concept or meaning, opens up a space that is often perceived in the travel situation as exotic, in the original meaning of the word. Peircian semiology on the other hand, in proposing a triadic model, within which the sign is linked to its object by the interpretant, offers a promising framework with which to explore the complexity of semiosis or the creation of meaning in exotic situations. This is so in particular since the interpretant can operate in both an immediate and a dynamic relation with the object: when confronted with the exotic, the traveller has to be prepared to think dynamically, that is to say, to supplement the rational deductive processes of the mind with imagination (or abduction) and/or empirical experience (induction). In this way initially unrecognizable or incomprehensible signs may be made to deliver up their meaning. In this context, a valuable distinction is made by Michel Foucault (1966, 44) between semiology – ‘the knowledge and techniques requisite for the indentification of signs’ – and hermeneutics – ‘the knowledge and techniques requisite for the interpretation of signs’. Whereas Saussure's method enhances the semiological approach, Peirce's offers a range of categories within which to enrich a hermeneutic reading.

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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 220 - 222
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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