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Based on ethnographic materials and published sources, the chapter describes expressive forms of German-Hungarian bilinguals in a Hungarian town who distinguished two contrasting people types: farmers and artisans. Farmers were seen as restrained, artisans as expansive elaborators. Two forms of German used in town displayed these differences: farmer-German (Bäuerisch) was more plain, while artisan-German (Handwerkerisch) was more elaborate. The differences were explained as the result of distinct values pursued by each category. The farmers were seen to value saving in order to amass land; artisans’ activities were seen to value aesthetic and interactional skills. Landless laborers were erased from this ideologized view. The distinctions were recursively projected inward from occupational categories to individuals. At larger scales, they were recursively projected outward, organizing differences between the town and neighboring villages, and between German speakers and Hungarian speakers, wherever found. Nationalist language policies after the Second World War challenged the local ideology, but similar ideological process were used to (re)interpret the newer developments.
Looking toward the future, the Coda invites readers to consider research strategies that draw on the book’s conceptual and theoretical arguments. The researcher might start from a phenomenon understood as a centerpiece, working outward from it to new sites; similarly, the researcher might start from a semiotic contrast and axis, and track their various transformations. Specific issues worth developing further include: how boundaries are lively and creative, rather than limiting; how social organizations and institutions are created through the processes outlined in the book; and how narratives that posit essences are socially situated and have social and cognitive effects.
Axes of differentiation seem stable, but are changed when deployed in situated action for diverse political projects. The chapter illustrates the semiotics of such changes, tracing the metapragmatic label “Yankee” in the United States between 1770 and 1850. Memoirs, travelogues, and historical and literary works provide evidence from this conflictual era. Political opinions, nonreferential indexes, and other expressive forms are also systematically traced, as enregistered parts of axes. Historical changes are illuminated: how an east/west axis was changed to North/South. More important is to specify the general process: axes are changed through successive uptakes in splicing, salience, pivoting. Fractal recursions of axes create cascades of rhematized differentiation and erasures in values, sensibilities, ethics, political opinions, and embodied identities. The chapter ends by showing how alliances and antagonisms are formed around fractal distinctions in social organizations. Fractal distinctions are enacted as conflict or solidarity. Coercive power and the creative power of novel categories and social forms are both apparent in the dynamics of differentiation.
The book asks how we should understand differentiation in language and communication within a world of human social relations and action. Attending to processes of fission and fusion that create and organize difference, the argument details how people conceive of difference as a process and work with it. Ideological process engages difference, both pervading and informing social action of all kinds. Neither true nor false, ideologies are positioned and partial visions of the world, relying on comparison and perspective-taking, and establishing a regime of value. Inspired by Peirce, we show ideological work to be semiotically constituted. It is open-ended and creative, embracing communication, linguistic and otherwise. We offer a multipart semiotic approach to the ideologized processes organizing and construing fission and fusion. Central concepts are attention-focusing, contrast, rhematization, axis of differentiation, fractal recursivity, and erasure. The book also presents analytical strategies, in a tradition of comparison in anthropology. There is no qualitative gulf between researchers and participants: all social actors must seek to interpret, and act upon, semiotic forms.
The chapter explicates comparison, a way of reasoning with signs that produces differentiation. It shows differentiation step-by-step with examples from a nineteenth-century American traveler describing people, practices, interactions, and landscape. Her presuppositions of what merited attention drew on frameworks of geography, society, linguistics, and politics. The qualities picked out by frameworks, organized into comparisons, constitute axes of differentiation. Diagrammatic iconicity provides semiotic scaffolding for axes. She understood her world as clusters of complementary qualities: “east” and “west.” Through rhematization, qualitative differences between signs seem like parallel differences in their objects; master metaphors summarize similarities among ontologically distinct phenomena as produced by differentiation. Narratives claim to explain the differences axes project. Fractal recursivity creates, by analogy, many differences from a single axis. Multiple axes may operate in a social scene. East/west is one axis in this historical example, standardization another. They have different topological shapes. Erasure simplifies this totalizing differentiation.
Based on ethnography and published sources, the chapter describes cultural themes constructing a key contrast between ranks within the “caste” traditions of Wolof society. Speech and other forms of conduct of “nobles” (géer) and “griots” (gewel) as ranked categories were constructed as differing between restraint and elaborated expressivity. Differences of speech style displayed and enacted the cultural contrasts. Local explanations attributed these differences to inherited bodily essences, said to define and motivate these person types. While categorizations and explanations depended on an ideology of caste, the ideological work they authorized went further. The differences between the noble and griot “castes” were recursively projected inward from caste categories onto lineage segments and individuals and outward onto categories such as ethnic groups. Some categories of personae, especially the descendants of “slaves,” were erased from this ideologized view. A historical section examines outward projections that situate rural distinctions within wider contexts: the salient urban/rural differences and townspeople’s ideological visions of other languages and nations.
Using thought experiments, the chapter shows how semiotic process constitutes the basics of ideology. Drawing on works of Charles Sanders Peirce and Nelson Goodman, it uses everyday terms to show how signs are defined by the conjectures that people make. People’s presuppositions about the world allow them to guess what can be taken as a sign, connecting signs to objects they are conjectured to represent. Thus, people construct sign relations and achieve meanings. This work of conjecturing is then erased and signs seem to stand by themselves. Sign making is open-ended; new conjectures are metasemiosis, building on and revising earlier ones. The chapter explains typification in sign making and the difference between signs as icons, depicting what they represent, indexes pointing to what they represent, and symbols that rely on a code. These kinds of sign relations are intertwined. Special attention is given to linguistic signs and Silverstein’s metapragmatics as a context-creating level of analysis. Finally, a brief American narrative is analyzed showing how the writer reasons with signs to metasemiotically create her perspective and make sense of her surroundings.
Scales are humanly made. Scale-making starts with a semiotic practice of comparison among sites, connecting them in an ideological project, defining what aspects are worth comparing, what dimensions, in what context. Scale-making practices organize comparisons in different ways, ranging from the impromptu to the conventional. We consider relations of inclusion and processes of (Peircean) abduction. Scale-making is sometimes contestable, as when some linguists say a language includes “its” dialects while other linguists disagree. Regarding models of scalar comparison, we propose two kinds: perspectival (multiple points of view are built into the model) and nonperspectival (claimed as “objective,” erasing the human interests that created the scaling). In “objective” models, phenomena are first measured against a standard unit, then the measurements are ranked. The results are socially dramatic. We discuss how savants in the French Revolution attempted to standardize, systematize, and centralize measures for many different dimensions, to further national unity and political control. Finally, we discuss the logic of arguments for incommensurability, which are also matters of scaling.
The chapters in Part II delve into the details of the semiotic process of differentiation, explicating how it works and illustrating it with examples of regional stereotypes of people and linguistic practice in nineteenth-century America.
This chapter uses the book’s semiotic approach to ideology and scaling to analyze the work of linguistic scholars in the nineteenth century who recognized comparison across grammatical systems as their great scientific achievement. Their ambition was an impossible “view from nowhere,” which would encompass every kind of linguistic form. Accordingly, they attempted to scale up their philological methods, derived from the study of ancient texts, to include the unwritten languages of denigrated populations in Asia, Africa, and rural Europe. But unwritten practices did not yield to the methodologies of linguists and continue today to challenge linguistic methods. Linguists who described unwritten languages, either as missionaries (in Africa and Asia) or while searching for national pasts (in Asia), were marginalized in the world of German philology of the nineteenth century. They struggled for inclusion into academic linguistics and were finally accepted because the center was attempting to universalize (upscale) its purview. The chapter closely examines African linguistics as well as Finno-Ugric linguistics of the late nineteenth century.