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III A Peircean Conceptualisation of Written Language

Theoretical Foundations

Aspects of Charles Sanders Peirce's work

I have shown how discourse analysis based on a Barthesian concept of language can generate a micro- and median-level analysis of the language of representation of the BP crisis. This analysis generated a considerable amount of data for interpretation at the level of discursive features. At a broader level, however, sits the “language map”, and in order to capture a sense of the full linguistic picture for each data set, I drew on some aspects of the work of Charles Sanders Peirce on semiotic concepts.

Earlier in the twentieth century, but partly in parallel with the work of de Saussure and Barthes in France, Charles Sanders Peirce was developing alternative theories of the sign. He named his area of study “sem[e]iotics”, which became a more widely used term than de Saussure’s “semiology”. Peirce’s definition of what constitutes a sign is extensive. For Peirce, a sign is “something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity” (1931-1958: 2.228). This definition appears to give the scope for full linguistic representations or data sets to be regarded as signs in themselves, much as de Saussure’s definition. Seeking to © The Author(s) 2017

J. Gravells, Semiotics and Verbal Texts, Postdisciplinary Studies in Discourse, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58750-3_13

encompass all possible instances of representation, Peirce eventually theorised over 59,000 sign types (Cobley & Jansz, 1999: 30). From this extremely complex logic system, only a few of Peirce’s taxonomies are regularly drawn upon in current scholarship, and I will discuss here two key ideas which offered a useful explanatory perspective on the BP data. The first is Peirce’s understanding of elements of a sign, and the second is his taxonomy of three sign forms—Icon, Index and Symbol—which are ways of expressing three relationships that the sign or representation has with a real-world referent.

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