Admittedly, semiotic currents issuing from linguistics rather than from logic or grammar
stress that semiotics targets sign systems. This is true, in the European tradition, of
Saussure and Hjelmslev, of the Tartu School also (Ivanov, Lotman, Lekomcev in particular).
However, the sign systems are usually understood as syntaxes: for example, Hjelmslev's
theory extends the procedures of morphosyntaxic analysis to the whole of sign systems. However,
even for languages, this syntactic patterning is not adequate, or marginally so. In the analysis of
texts, all kinds of units are mentioned which do not break down into signs, such as topics or
narratives functions. Signs are the least complex units, which does not necessarily entail that they are
fundamental ones, in the sense that all the other units may not be reduced to signs without remainder.
Were we to succeed in this reduction attempt, we would still have to acknowledge that no one has
yet been able to provide a finite list of all the signs of a natural language.
Lastly, a language does not consist of one and only one system of signs, insofar as any text
testifies to the interaction of several kinds of systems, in particular the impact of standards. This is
why no grammar is able to generate a text. And without taking standards into account, the grammars
that can generate sentences are unable to discard unspeakable sentences __ and
non-speakable ones because of the strictures of rationality.
II. Semiotics and the Symbolic Paradigm of Cognitivism
1. Signs in cognitive science
There are in fact two types of signs recognized by cognitivism: signals and symbols (in the
logical definition of the term). The other types are studied only for their new translation into
symbols, then, if necessary, into signals. Let us examine in this light the types of semantics and
hermeneutics attached to the signal and the logical symbol.
1.1. Meaningless signals
Theories of the signal, flourishing under cybernetics, are related to the theory of information.
It is advisable to distinguish the rampant use of the word signal, in expressions like
signal-processing or speech signal, which then indicates physical flows likely
to be interpreted as signifiers. This concept calls for a theory of interpretation, because nobody has
yet offered a truly reliable method to distinguish the signal (meaningful part) from interference (the
remainder in the physical flow). Let us add that the signal does not have syntax, because it is not
In another meaning of the word, signals are electromechanical bits.
They are discrete, but do not have syntax. The concept of information expresses a statistical property
of the signals, and has no relationship with the meaning that can be attributed to the message. The
model of communication, which one finds in all linguistics and semiotics primers, is derived from
telecommunication engineering. The transmitter and the receiver are, for example, a loudspeaker and
a microphone. The message is not the text, but its expression, boiled down to its elements.1 Yet the Receiver fails to take the place of the interpreter, nor
can decoding replace comprehension, because to hear is not to understand, except if we bypass
interpretation. More generally, the extension of the communication diagram is proof of the
hermeneutic shortcomings of the language and cognitive sciences.
1. For instance, the Markhovian model was worked out to
study the succession of vowels and consonants in Eugene Oneguin. [RETURN]