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Author Topic: Representamen && You! (A brief bloviation on alphabet design and semiosis)  (Read 47 times)


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I already posted this in the DKMU discord under #study-den, as well as the FB DKMU group, but I figured I would post it here to give it more potential visibility to people who don't engage with Discord and FB. please enjoy!

In terms of alphabet design, it's not just a matter of how hard it might be to draw a given a known simple alphabet, there are deeper implications to it to be considered like the overall spatial motif of the alphabet. for instance, English is heavily built around straight lines, with the only letters that have curves in them being ones where the mouth either starts and starts in a rounded position, or ends up resolving to one. not to mention that d and p are literally the same sound (labiodental plosive), it's just that one is voiced (b, as you have to engage the larynx to pronounce it), and the other voiceless (P, as all you do to pronounce it is let a burst of air out.) so there are certainly some other hidden relations behind the scenes of alphabet design

the best example is Hangul where every letter in the language acts as a diagram of how you should position your mouth and vocal tract to pronounce it. also, another note with Latin alphabet, the only values with a round shape are ones that end up with a rounded mouth shape at the end. and, at that, the one that js a full loop has full open mouth shape, whereas the one that isn't full (u) has a more tightly rounded mouth shape.

sorry for the rambling but i jus think it's important to consider an alphabet in more holistic and intraconnected senses, rather than seeing each element of it separately and alone. they definitely have their own energy and impact, but they also need to be considered within the terms of the whole, because the fact of the matter is its very rare to ever use any of them alone without others nearby.

(postnote: one might suggest, WELL WHAT ABOUT T AND D? they're both alveolar affricatives (they make contact with the soft palate with the tongue while holding back a burst of air) but they don't have any clear structural parallels; T and D both have a straight vertical line as their base with another element attached to them that references their voiced status [ eg T is a straight line, with the second element on m top of the letter {or more accurately, it doesn't contact the lower writing bound} that starts at the top and ends at the top,nd as such it is  unvoiced because it starts being pronounced  relatively "up" in the vocal tract [behind the tongue when you drop it to let the burst of air out] and it continues to end there as well, thus it's top-> top. also a sharp sound, with edges like a line, whereas D has its second element connect to the bottom of the grid and said element is rounded, referencing the fact that it's voiced [and thus lacking the ability to sharp sibilant transient of an unvoiced consonant, but rather the more even vibration of the larynx as the vector of tonal transmission]  because it is a rounded frorn indicating something without sharp edges, and it also starts at the top when being pronounced but resolves at the "bottom" in the sense that the articulation starts at the labiodental articulation point, but ultimately the sound comes from the larynx which is spatially lower than said articulation point)

one of the problems of this whole encoding perspective with alphabets though is they are limited heavily on how they can encode said info. compared to, say, the Chinese logography.  There, each character encodes some aspect of its referent,  namely using a pictogram which is essentially a pictorial representation of the referent as a character, or an ideogram, where it abstractly encodes some aspect of the referent (eg the character for up has a straight horizontal line at the base with an ascender that shoots straight up— as well as a horizontal midpoint running perpendicular to the ascender, making it almost seem like something you could climb ) whereas down is essentially that flipped across the z axis and the middle line moved up & rotated 45 degrees such that the midpoint becomes a conceptual downward incline (almost as if one could conceptually slide down it).

not to mention it operates on the rebus principle, whereon if you have a pictogram or ideogram that is pronounced like another word, then said *gram can fill in for that. alphabets however sacrifice the capacity to encode and swap values out freely but that is because alphabets, compared to a logography, use a heavily stripped down set of shapes to represent phonemes, and specifically a redundant set of shapes where that is simple enough to remember vs remembering  a specific character for each each possible phoneme. the redundancy of the former is what makes it so useful, as one could in theory articulate the lexeme for any given word just by identifying the phonemes on the former and then mapping each one to the nearest phoneme within the constraints. but ultimately by paring it down so much, it gains a more universal capacity to express.  (lexeme)

it's trading off the necessity of needing to memorize a huge group of symbols just to   communicate, to a much simpler and easy   system with significantly less content to integrate, and generally much simpler content to the point that the commonalities in encoding and the shapes of the letters become secondary to the function of the letter, rather than at equal or higher footing with it. you lose a lot of the,idk, the emotional salience and oomph of a logography because of all the work you have to put in to express it, but you gain in its place a system that is only constrained by your cognitive limits and can be as precise or as general as you want it to. thus alphabets certainly empower intent a lot more

this doesn't even get into the concept of semiosis and the relationship between interpreter and interpretant and how that fueled this evolution; long story short, this can be essentially codified as a tripartite system with regards to signs (in the sense of signs being external manifestations or configurations of reality intended to convey information of some sort, eg signaling) wherein the constituent elements are the sign itself, the object which acts as the sign's subject, and the sign's interpretant, which is to say the effects of having interpreted the sign, or more simply, the clarified meaning and intent of the sign, as discovered via interpretation, and upon semiosis occurring. in any case, signs represent a utility by which information transfer can happen, and they have. specific order in which they evolved in order for language to take the form it has today. at a high level, the lineage is icon - > index - > symbol. beyond that, these three things also represent what the philosopher Peirce referred to as Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, which will be explicated according to necessity.

the first step in representation is the icon, where you have a direct connection to the signed object; an icon more or less directly resembles the concept that you are trying to convey. that isn't to suggest that the resemblance be concrete or tangible, as, per Peirce , from, icons can be divided into three distinct groupings, namely images, diagrams, and metaphors. images are obviously just lower resolution facsimiles of a thing, whereas diagrams are essentially analytical correspondences with some feature of a thing, and metaphors are obviously just the form an icon takes in the abstract, in the realm of cognitive experiences. an icon represents Firstness in the sense that it is the ineffable, the noumenal, that which accords. An icon is specifically qualified by the fact that it is representative of something else, and has a direct link to that referent in concept. there is no need for prior knowledge or context to understand the link between icon and referent.

from there, icons then developed into the index/indices, where indices are essentially signs that point to a thing or suggest a thing. indices correspond with the concept of Secondness, which is to say, physical reality, things you can touch and directly experience, or more generally, the world outside the mind. Indices are conveyed through the world itself, and are essentially internal conceptions given an external representation. Indices need not have a direct conceptual accordance with their referents. Given that they operate based on prior knowledge, indices are defined by being a more factual, pointed reference, qualified by the interpretation thereof rather than any specific noumenal quality thereof. Like Icons, indices as well can be divided into three distinct subunits, namely tracks, symptoms, and designations. Tracks are things that the referent may have left behind, such as the scent of cologne lingering in a room reminding someone of someone else, or, of course, the tracks that animals leave as they walk through dirt. Symptoms are things that are simultaneous with their object, they are equivalent in substance and nature. Where you have one, you trend to have the other. Smoke is a symptom of fire. Designations are just what they sound like, things that designate something specifically; they point at the referent and identify it, but do not necessarily have to be anything directly related to the referent.

The final step in the process, then, is from index to symbol. Symbols represent Thirdness, which is essentially the structure and order of reality itself, the "collective consciousness" of society. As Firstness is to prethought and individualistic impulses , Secondness is to thought and awareness, the transcendence of mere base urges, and finally, Thirdness is to emergent awareness, the wisdom of the crowd, society and self monitoring whilst also monitoring others. The whole process is metaphorical of motion through expansion, from a closed off, insular and singular microcosmic point, to a vast and macrocosmic awareness, a society, a culture. Symbols, as such, have no requirement that they are directly connected to what they refer to, nor do they even have to have any sort of conceptual linkage to them. Symbols are free of any constraints, and operate purely on convention alone.

side note: as is obvious, the formulation of semiosis is very much a ternary sort of conception. in fact, Peirce formulated his conception of semiosis basically in triadic groups from the bottom up. I didn't go into too much detail as to other aspects of his framework, but suffice to say, basically everything that can be represented within the realm of signing intent can be reduced to a more or less SUBJECT, PREDICATE, OBJECT type relationship. stealing an explanation from Wikipedia because I'm lazy:

Peirce adopted the term semiosis (or semeiosis) and defined it to mean an "action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this trirelative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs"

if you look further into his framework for semiosis, you can see that he took this triadic relation concept to the logical extreme, breaking basically everything down into triplets, and from there also deconstructing those triplets into further triplets. i just bring this up because i think it's easy to come to the conclusion that, because any interaction tends to involve two perspectives at the most fundamental level (internal and external), one might be inclined to think of the process of semiosis in terms of multiples of 2, but the fact of the matter is the semiosis doesn't occur between the individuals interacting so much as it does between a subject matter, the subject's representation, and the interpretation of that representation. semiosis as a concept doesn't even necessarily hinge on the formulation of interpersonal interactions, as, per the quote I dropped way earlier, thought itself is just more or less an emergent phenomena that results from semiosis. to exist and engage with reality is to process and interpret signs, for every signal from external reality to internal awareness can be broken down into those three constituent parts: the target/subject of the sign (which, btw, is referred to as the representamen, that is, the thing which is being represented,) the sign itself, and the interpretant sign that results from processing the sign.
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