T. Nazarova: "Linguistic and Literary Semiotics"


    Along with the "choice" of the variant of pronunciation one should make another distinction - between diatopic variants of the language. To illustrate the point I will adduce examples from the vocabulary. The use of "solicitor, flat, rubbish, lift, autumn, petrol" etc. "signals" that you are a British English speaker, whereas "lawyer, apartment, garbage, elevator, fall, gas" etc. convey that you are an American English speaker. 2

    Differences between the two variants of English are observable in grammar, morphology, syntax and style. On a more sophisticated level of cultural awareness we shall have to take into account the perception of the world by an American and an Englishman. Americans are generally recognized to be more outspoken and categorical, whereas the British are more tentative and roundabout. In terms of intercultural communication the following piece of instruction "Please Keep Hands Off Door" will be recognized as American, the respective understated British counterpart being "Obstructing the door causes delay and can be dangerous".

    At the beginning of the present article I focussed on phonemes as the unilateral units of the diacritical level signalling "otherness." A seemingly simple instance of semiosis gradually led to wider linguodidactic and cultural contexts - pronunciation and intercultural communication. A transition of this kind, at times negated by structural semioticians, seems to be well-justified to a linguist who regards language not as an "emic" idealized abstraction, but a fully cognizable synthesis of underlying mental processes and the complexities of linguistic semasiology (Akhmanova, Nazarova 1992). Every time we apply the semiotic methodology in question to the objectively existing facts of the language we have to be aware of the continuous interaction of language and speech, language and thinking, language and literature, language and culture.

    We can make another step and consider a universally-recognized, commonly-shared and conventionally-used sign system - punctuation marks. These are "disembodied" in the sense that there is no historically or extralinguistically determined connection between what they signal and what they actually are. Punctuation marks can be used arbitrarily by whomever in writing. This is a system of very convenient, compact signs which find conventional expression both in writing and oral speech. Punctuation marks are singular in the sense that they are semiotically kept apart: the things they signal have to be clearly distinguished and differentiated. A full stop denotes the end of a sentence; a colon introduces an explanation; a semi-colon links separate ideas within a sentence. In terms of a wider cultural perspective there will be a dramatic difference between the use of punctuation marks in English and Russian. English punctuation is semantic-stylistic, whereas Russian punctuation is syntactic-grammatical (Alexandrova 1984).

2  To add to this: abbreviated forms of words cossie, footie, pressie, rellie, etc. will not only "signify" the great productivity of the informal suffix -ie, but will likely place the determined user of these words as a speaker of Australian English.   [BACK TO TEXT]

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AS/SA nº 1 (1996): 3 of 8

© 1996 Nazarova
© 1996 AS/SA

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