Investigating Meaning in Experimental Semiotics

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Experimental semiotics is a new discipline developed over the last decade to study human communication. Studies within this discipline typically involve people creating novel signs by associating signals with meanings. Here we suggest ways this discipline can be used to shed light on how people create and communicate meaning. First we present observations drawn from studies in which participants not only construct novel signals, but also have considerable freedom over what these signals refer to. These studies offer intriguing insight on non-saussurian signs (where a single unit of meaning is associated with different signals), communicative egocentricity, private and public meaning, and the distinction between meaningful and meaningless units in linguistic structure, that is between morphemes and phonemes (or analogous entities). We then present a novel quantitative approach to determining the extent to which a signal unit is meaningful, and illustrate its use with data from a study in which participants construct signals to refer to predetermined meanings. Aside from these specific contributions, we show more generally how challenging investigating meaning in Experimental Semiotics is, but we argue that this reflects the difficulties we must face when studying meaning, outside the lab as well as in it.


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Journal Information

CiteScore 2016: 0.24

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2016: 0.200
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2016: 0.380


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