The formal attributes of language have fascinated the research disciplines for the shear volume of possibilities in explaining the birth, evolution and development, use and abuse of language. The available material for analysis provides a prolific inspiration to the curious minds. This fascination has been explored by literary theorists, ethnographers, linguists, evolutionary and developmental psychologists, communication scientists, neuroscientists and many other disciplines. Combining the available literature on this topic from all the disciplines would perhaps facilitate the investigations into questions which have remained unanswered in the years by the individual scientific approaches. This paper aims are combining two approaches - a classical semiotics approach to language understanding and a neuro-psychological approach. Notably, the paper will first outline the classical understandings of semiotics and the semiotic theory applied to language including the view points of Saussure, Peirce, and Eco. This paper will aim at pointing out possible ideas for further discussions of the importance of the sender and receiver in the semiotic context from a psychological-communications point of view. The paper will then outline the neural construction of the brain that takes care of language processing. The neuroscience approach provides basis for further transdisciplinary interpretations of semiotic structures. Finally, the paper will combine the two approaches into an attempt to explain the concepts and phenomena reported by semioticians such as language evolution, communication, and understanding with the means of the psychological findings reported in the literature. Throughout the paper, a story by Paulo Coelho will be used as an illustrative tool for various hypothetical communicative situations.
Ever since Saussure explained that language is a system of signs, the concept of communication is changed. As a pioneer of the semiotics theory, Saussure formulated the basis on which subsequent theorists developed their viewpoints. His definition of language as a system of signs, he points out (1916/1986), is comparable to the alphabet, forms of politeness, military signs, and others. As such it is part of the social psychology, he continues, and its existence becomes deterministic. The rigorous rules that would determine the classification of signifiers and signified (sign-vehicle and meaning, respectively) are the basis for semiology. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is the basic system of “language” and serves as the outline for the linguistic theory of Saussure. The signified appears to have been defined more clearly although it also leaves several questions. Eco (1979) sums up the definition as “half way between a mental image, a concept and a psychological reality” (p. 14). The signifier comprises of the idea and the image. With these two concepts at hand, it appears that communication should be effortless. Eco concludes that “the sign is implicitly regarded as a communicative device taking place between two human beings intentionally aiming to communicate or to express something” (p. 15). What remains questionable in this idea, however, is to what extent the “meaning” is intrinsic to the signifier and the signified. In instances when it is not, the “meaning” needs to be shared between the communicative parties in order that “language” functions as a communicative device.
To this dual perspective of a sign and an object, Peirce adds the “interpretant” - a third integral part of the chain of semiotics. In this sense, with Peirce the importance of communication becomes more prominent. The three abstract semiotic entities in Peirce’s semiosis are defined as explained: 1. sign is something that will convey a message only to those for whom it fulfills a certain capacity; thus sign will exist only in its relationship to the interpretant (one can already see the greater connection between the parts of the semiotics chain in Peirce’s version as compared to Saussure’s); 2. the object, for which a sign would stand, would exist as an entity only as long as what it stands for can be interpreted by the interpretant; and 3. the interpretant needs to share this meaning in order to understand what the sign stands for in connection to the object. This triad is the core of what qualifies intentionality and artificiality in the communication context. An advantages characteristic of this definition is the needlessness of a sender. For example, symptoms may be present without any intentionality but they may still be understood. For Saussure, reducing symptoms to signs would not have been possible. An important point that is yet to be added to the equation is that of intentionality.
Eco’s definition goes beyond what Peirce and Saussure define. As long as the sign is “taken as something standing for something else” (Eco’s emphasis), it is considered a valid participant in semiosis. This re-evaluates the importance of an interpreter as any possible interpretation can be made by any possible interpreter. This definition relies on what Eco calls “culture as a semiotic phenomenon”. He explains that “the systems of meaning are organized as structures which follow the same semiotic rules as were set out for the structures of the sign-vehicle” (p.27). Culture is what contains the set of codes to decode and encode information and this can define every entity as a semiotic phenomenon. This definition liberates ideas to define “intentionality”.
1.4. Limitation, questions to address, and some further discussions
The three approaches, although they fulfill the need for definition of the semiotic context, do not succeed in explaining broader communication contexts and specifically the evolution of the processes which moderate the exchange of information. The ability of the receiver to decode the message is what the encoder will aim at facilitating. But how? This creates a systemic interaction between sender and receiver with the message in between. The paper will now present several questions that pure semiotics cannot addressed because of the different methodological approach.
If one were to characterize the type of information, one can observe either “natural phenomena and symbols” or “artificially (and/or intentionally) produced phenomena”. This presents the first and simplest to interpret dimension of the type of information. Next would be a dimension on the side of the sender that one could refer to as intentionality. Finally, the interpretation level would round up the 3rd dimension of the semiotic space. In an even more ambitious space, one can include a time dimension. It, however, will not be discussed as it can only provide a momentary snapshot which can be position in the 3-dimensional space at any time and would simply necessitate moving around with the change of time.
(Eco does not clarify such a structure - for him, natural signs are “(a) physical events coming from a natural source and (b) human behavior not intentionally emitted by its sender” [p. 16]. In this context, it was considered necessary to come up with a clearer structure and this lead to the definition of the 3-dimensional space. Although, it is somewhat true that all physical events coming from a natural source would be classified as not intentional, the proposed classification is especially necessary in the context of human behavior as outlined below).
Having these 3 dimensions, one can observe the following semiotic scenarios: a) unintentional physical events coming from a natural source which are not being interpreted b) unintentional physical events coming from a natural source which are being interpreted, c) unintentional events coming from a sender in a communication context which are being interpreted by a receiver, d) unintentional events coming from a sender in a communication context which are not being interpreted by a receiver, e) intentional events coming from a sender in a communication context which are being interpreted by a receiver, and f) intentional events coming from a sender in a communication context which are not being interpreted by a receiver.
(A question from the systemic point of view may come here - the presented model assumes that information flows constantly only in one direction - always from person 1 to person 2 and that person 1 is the sender and person 2 is the receiver. However, the reality of the situation requires the consideration of the fact that person 1, while sending any type of information, will always also receive information which they would interpret as a receiver and would thus modify the information that they are sending. This constant circle of exchange of information creates a complex situation which may pose additional questions. For the time being, this paper will focus on the more stripped-down communication and semiotic contexts where information flows from the sender to the receiver without other information flowing the other way at the same time. In other words, for the purposes of this paper, the sender will be considered independent of their function of a constant receiver and vice versa.)
Semiotics as it appears to be summarized by Eco limits its interest to scenario b) and not to a full extent to scenarios e) and f). The intentionality dimension on the side of the sender does not appear to be relevant for a semiotician such as Saussure, Peirce or Eco (although, Eco is more lenient in this respect). One can illustrate the importance of the other scenarios with an example of a metaphoric description by Paulo Coelho. In “Like The Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections” (2007) Coelho retails a metaphoric image of several functions of a pencil (see Appendix). In this scenario, the boy is the receiver of the information and the grandmother is the sender of the information. The pencil on its own can be considered on many different levels from different points of view as Eco outlines: a) the physical level, b) the mechanical level, c) the economic level, d) the social level, e) the semantic level.
The physical level of the pencil concerns the fact that it is made of wood and that it encloses a graphite in the middle (although one must note that there are pencils that are made entirely of graphite without the wood - which changes the semiotic meaning of “pencil” - for simplicity’s sake, we would not consider those pencils “pencils”). The mechanical level defines the function of the pencil as a writing equipment which needs to be hold and controlled by a hand (or robotic mechanisms) in order to function as such. The economic level can define the pencil as a commodity with exchange value (ranging from few cents to several euros) which closely links it to the social level where a particular pencil can indicate a certain social status (Faber-Castell pencils, for example, would often be associated with higher social class).
None of these 5 levels, however, addresses the metaphoric “information” that is associated with the pencil in the story by Coelho. The levels that Coelho create a quite different and they can only be characterized as metaphorical. The information that they contribute would be considered semiotic only when the intentions of the sender are clear and when the interpretation of the receiver are clear as well. For example, if the boy was to use the same semiotic metaphor to tell a friend of theirs that they are like the pencil without explaining prior to that the meaning of the metaphor, the friend would not interpret the information, despite the boy’s intention. On the other hand, if the boy talks with a friend of theirs and the friend just happens to mention a pencil that they have lost and that had sentimental value to them (because it was, for example, a memento from the hotel they stayed at during a vacation where they had a great time), the boy’s association may be that of empathy but may also immediately trigger the metaphoric semiosis created by the grandmother explaining the multi-faceted meaning of the pencil. Thus, the intentionality of the message remains absent, although a certain interpretation is made (an interpretation bound to the recipient's semiotic background).
These small scenarios were meant to illustrate the dissociation that exists between intentionality and interpretation which semioticians seem to ignore partially. Although Eco does mention approaches that are sender-focused or receiver-focused, he seems to be oblivious of the fact that both are equally important.
2. Alternative perspectives on semiotics
2.1. Communication theories
Communication has been a focus of research in psychology and sociology for centuries with Charles Darwin establishing a solid background in the development of the understanding of facial expressions and their communicative and evolutionary form. The importance for semiotic theories lies in the explanation that has been put forward to transfer message and how that message can be contained on many levels of the communication context. The subsequent paragraphs will summarize how Darwin viewed the evolution of facial expressions which to these days are taken to have a communicative function and how that evolutionary background would help in the understanding of the distinction between intentional and unintentional communication.
In his book “The expression of emotions in man and animals” (1872), Darwin summarizes his observations on his son’s facial expression development, as well as what he had observed on his many travels to indigenous tribes. He speculates that facial expressions had first and foremost a specific function associated with specific behavior that has only later has come to be associated (similar to conditioning) to an emotional state. For example, the expression of disgust which is characterized by curling of the lips, drawing back of the head, perhaps even putting the tongue out of the mouth and other. This can perhaps best be illustrated by an improvised experiment as described by Cornelius (1995). What he describes is a process for comparison between the actual observed behavior and the expression of disgust. The characteristics of both appears to be identical which, as suggested by Darwin as well, shows the connection between the functionality of a particular expressions and how it has become associated with an emotional state. Because disgust appears often in the context of one wanting to spit some ingested product out (an unpleasant product), the facial behavior has come to be associated with the unpleasant experience of having something unpleasant in one’s mouth. This simple illustration has been part of the research focusing on the universality of facial expressions for the past 50 years when research in this field shifted to cross-cultural investigations which will be addressed later in the paper.
This related to semiotics in two ways. First, it appears that there is a certain non-communicative aspect of every facial expression but the communicative function has come to be associated with the other functions. This suggests that as soon as the emotion has been recognized on the face of a communication partner, the other function of that facial expression is also activated in the semantic network of the receiver of the information. For example, if the boy hears that the story that the grandma was writing was about a pencil instead of him, the boy may show the expression of surprise which is characterized with wide opening of the eyes, perhaps opening of the mouth, moving the head forward. The evolutionary background of this facial expression has been traced back to the collection of information from the environment. Because of the wider opening of eyes allowing for better vision, and the better smell perception with the opening of the mouth, and the movement towards a source of information associated with the movement of the head forward, the grandmother would interpret the facial expression of surprise as the attempt of the boy to get more information. And then she would proceed giving more information about the pencil story. The boy would be sending, perhaps, a signal of surprise intentionally but the meaning that this surprised expression would convey (i.e. “I am surprised, please give me more information”) is not necessarily conveyed intentionally because the boy may not want to disturb his grandma when he hears that the story is not about him (if it were not, the grandma would probably not provide an explanation without receiving the encouraging question from the grandson) but it is understood in a particular way despite the obvious lack of intentionality.
The second important point connected to the semantic understanding of emotions has to do with the implicit influence on the understanding of the other levels of information conveyed in a communication context. It has been established that particular facial expressions are processed faster than others (i.e. the correct recognition rate was faster). This can again be explained in evolutionary terms when it is important to recognize danger (i.e. emotional expressions of anger are recognized faster than expressions of disgust, Cornelius, 1995) but also it is important to recognize positive facial expressions (i.e. happiness is recognized faster than surprise, Cornelius, 1995). This recognition rate has been shown to influence the processing of other emotionally charged information (e.g. Goldstein, 2006). This has to do, perhaps, with the convergence of the emotional information in a specific area of the brain which deals with putting together emotional information from all sensory modality and all sensory contexts. This means that an emotional expression of happiness will influence the perception of emotionally neutral picture. And so when the boy is fascinated by the multiple facets of story of the pencil and shows that smile to his grandmother, the boy may not realize that this communicates a positive experience which may be interpreted by the grandmother as a confirmation that the story that she was writing was exciting and insightful which she may not have been so certain of before. This example illustrates how the unintentionally sent message is understood by the grandmother. But at the same time, it may also influence her perception on an unconscious level; i.e. both parties of the communication context have processed (encoded and decoded) information without their intention.
2.2. Cross-cultural communication
[Culture in this context will be defined as broad as shared knowledge between a group of people. As such, a person may also share cultural background with several groups and belong to different cultures at different times or at the same time.]
With the development of the post-industrial society, traveling and cultural exchange has become part of the political, economic, cultural, and other spheres of exchange. When it comes to communication in these exchanges, misunderstandings occur more prominently. In particular, the situation becomes complicated when intentionality of sending and the understanding is compromised because of the impregnated differences in values, norms, beliefs, cognitions, and many others. These discrepancies are connected with the underlying question of “nature vs. nurture” - a question that must not be ignored in the semiotic line of arguments.
There is a general understanding that there is no phenomenon that would be purely natural or purely nurtural and that would be immune to influences from both levels. In understanding facial expressions, for example, if it were not for the universal evolutionary development of emotional expressions, one would not have observed a list of universal facial expressions recognized by various cultures, including ones that have never had interaction with other cultures (e.g. the Fore from Papua New Guinea investigated by Ekman & Friesen, 1971). In his study, he found out that there are 6 facial expressions which the Fore clearly recognized as the same that a Westerner would have. This consistency, according to Ekman, can only speak about the universality and the evolutionary nature (as outlined by Darwin) of emotional expressions. [Of course, the picture is slightly more complicated but the complications do not contribute to the further understanding of semiotics and thus would not be discussed here.]
An interesting example of a cultural pattern that impregnates and influences the perception of emotional expressions has been reported by Ekman in the same study. According to his results, the emotional expressions for surprise and fear were often confused for one another by the Fore. The explanation that he proposes based on his subsequent investigations suggest that the two are confused because they often occur in conjunction to each other in the daily reality of the Fore. In other words, the cultural background, in which they grow up, influences the evolutionary in-built mechanisms of recognition.
In the context of information transfer and communication, it appears that culture would play a role in the possible interpretation of emotional expressions (such as with the Fore who confused the pictures of fear and surprise). If the grandmother and the boy had not been sharing the cultural background that they are, perhaps the grandmother would not have been able to point out the clear meaning of the boy’s surprised facial expressions and may have interpreted it as partly fear (for the sanity of the grandmother whose writing a story about a pencil?). The lack of intentionality does not need to be related to the understanding of it in cases when the language for “decoding” the facial expression is not shared between the two parties. The context also plays essential role in the understanding of the signs and symbols and the intentionality impregnated in a communication context would then rely also on the interpretation of that context.
2.3. Contextual influences
The decoding of emotional expressions has for long been hypothesized to be universal for some expressions. However, there is evidence for the different interpretation depending on the context. A smile may be a smile but a smile may indicate happiness while another one may be perceived as fake because of complex contextual cues. An example of a contextual cue for the understanding of facial expressions would be the time dimension of a smile’s onset, apex and offset (Krumhuber, Manstead, & Kappas, 2007; see also Mihov, 2007). It appears that only a facial expression with specific duration of the onset, apex and offset would be considered genuine. Any deviation from that pattern would lead to the smile being perceived as fake.
In terms of intentionality, it is possible after a certain amount of practice to acquire the necessary skill to fake a smile. It is not, however, possible for every person to fake a smile 100% and the intentionality to convey a smile when one is not necessarily happy is not communicable in all instances. Moreover, the dissociation is also present on the level of the decoder who needs to understand the cues that suggest a fake smile and the recognizability of the fake smile is not 100% either. An even more complicated scenario exists when the sender of the emotional expression creates a very convincing fake expression, which is interpreted as an indication for a certain emotional state, but other levels of the contextual situation contradict this emotional state. In yet another situation, the emotional expression may be very genuine but the contextual information may create a contradictory situation, which would necessitate a reappraisal of the expression. For example, if the boy starts crying when the grandmother tells him that he is like a pencil (a genuine emotional expression) and if the grandma had been told by (just for example) a teacher of the boy how much more sensitive than his peers he is (a contextual cue), the additional information may enhance the interpretation of the boy’s emotional expression and lead to a different behavioral response from the grandmother with greater emphasis on certain aspects of the pencil story which she may have not emphasized otherwise. The same phenomena can be applied to linguistic understanding, where language is even more an expression of cultural difference than in facial expressions.
2.4. Metaphoric language understanding and language development
Metaphor understanding has been the focus of interest for creativity researchers. A metaphor is simply a sign with a symbolic meaning which is attached to it by a group of people sharing this symbolic meaning. As such, metaphors may be understood by as few as 2 people only. Being embedded in a specific background knowledge/situation/context, they carry unique meaning beyond the face value associated with the words. Whether a metaphor consists of one word or a phrase is irrelevant.
Investigations of the way the brain processes metaphors have unveiled that, compared to non-metaphoric phrases, the brain requires additional brain areas located in the frontal part of the brain. For non-metaphoric language (mother tongue only), the brain possesses a specially designated brain area (Broca’s area - language processing happens mostly on the left side of the brain despite the presence of Broca’s areas on both sides of the brain). To understand the metaphoric meaning, however, the additional brain areas also become active due to their connections to Broca’s area when the information encoded in the phrase cannot be decoded singly in Broca’s area.
The additional brain areas associated with the understanding of metaphors have extensive brain connections to the memory and emotional system in order to process the information effectively. On the level of the language, a metaphor will not differ from any other word/phase in terms of the information that it brings. However, the additional background knowledge will “attach” the supplementary symbolic meaning. Thus the sign acquires new signification.
The story that the grandmother was writing implies the creation of a new metaphor - attaching new meaning to the sign “pencil”. By telling the boy the story, she creates common knowledge between them. The word “pencil” becomes a metaphor to the boy and every time he hears pencil (independent of the context), the 5 characteristics of the pencil that his grandmother outlines will become activated. Thus, even if a friend of the boy mentions “pencil” in some context, this friend will be unintentionally sending information to the boy who will be interpreting more than has been encoded in the message. Moreover, if the boy wants to intentionally make a reference to the metaphoric meaning of “pencil” when talking to a friend, he will need to explain the metaphoric meaning (and create the common background) to the friend in order to convey the intended message. Otherwise, the intentionality of the encoding will be present but the understanding (i.e. the decoding) will not be successful.
2.5. Semantic and conceptual networks and hemispheric specialization
Understanding and creating metaphors requires another important between the language decoding and the symbolic decoding - the activation of the associative network that links the language with the abstract meaning of the metaphor. The semantic and conceptual connection between words is an essential aspect. In the same way as a spider web one can connect a junction of the web with another one by simply following the web, the connection between the words can be achieved. Some words would be closer to others and thus it would take less time and effort of the cognition to associate the two words; for example, “love” and “heart”. The two words are closely linked conceptually and if presented with the word “heart”, a person would be much quicker at identifying the word “love” than the word “muscle” which is also a descriptor for “heart”.
Research from neuroscience has uncovered several interesting aspects of the processes that happen in the brain with respect to semantic connections between the words. Evidence from various methodological investigation (discussed in greater detail in Mihov & Denzler, 2008) have suggested that the two brain hemispheres function differently from one another when it comes to language processing. Specifically, Gott, Rossiter, Galbraith, and Saul (1977) already suggested that the left hemisphere handles lexical processing better. They investigated the performance of commissurotomy patients (patients whose corpus callosum, establishing the connection and communication between the two hemispheres, is partially severed) on various lexical tasks. Under special experimental conditions, the patients were presented a word either to the left visual field only (reaching only the right hemisphere) or the right visual field (reaching only the left hemisphere). They were asked to provide the meaning of the word. The results suggest a strong left hemispheric specialization to process words and to identify their meaning.
Connecting the identified meaning of two consecutively presented words is also carried out in the left hemisphere if the words have semantic connection only (e.g. “plane” and “train”) but not conceptual (e.g. “foot” and “shoe”). Drews (1987) presented pairs of words separately to one of the two hemispheres of slip-brain patients and only when the words were presented in the right visual field (left hemisphere) were participants able to identify the semantically related words as being related to each other (but they were not able to do that with conceptually related ones). The semantic networks with their unique separate knowledge structures with various levels have many extensions to other networks and depending on motivational state, mood, emotionality level, and other situational factors may have a facilitative or inhibitory effect on the accessibility and activation of other concepts.
Interestingly, however, studies report that children do not exhibit the same specialization. Kempler and his colleagues (Kempler, van Lancker, Marchman, & Bates, 1999) observed that children perform equally well on lexical tasks independent of the hemisphere. There is a well-established consensus about the inverse correlation between the number of years at which one start acquiring new language skills and the proficiency in that language (in particular with respect to syntactic understanding and phonology; e.g. Johnson & Newport, 1989; Weber-Fox & Neville, 1996; Flege, Yeni-Komishan, & Liu, 1999; Oyama, 1976). This suggests that the early brain plasticity diminishes with age and settles (always) with specific functions being attached to a specific hemisphere.
Although the primary language structures for language processing are always in the left hemisphere, certain functions relate to the right hemisphere. In particular, processing units of distant semantic knowledge (i.e. conceptual) appear to be associated with the right hemisphere. An experiment that illustrates these processes has been reported by Beeman, Friedman, Grafman, Perez, Diamond, and Linsay (1994; see also Drews, 1987). Participants in the study were presented with a series of seemingly unrelated words (e.g. foot, cry, glass) to only one of the two hemispheres. Immediately after the three-word presentation, another word was displayed on the screen (e.g. cut) and participants were instructed to press a response key if the word was spelled correctly and another key if the word was misspelled. The left hemisphere performed worse (i.e. slower) on this task because of its inability to connect the first three words into a new concept which was closely related to the target word. The right hemisphere, however, did not.
It appears that metaphor understanding is not limited to one part of the brain and that both left and right hemispheres are necessary to fully understand the concepts. Considering the automatic transfer of information between the different brain areas, it is no wonder that the pencil metaphor will be activated in the boy’s mind even if “pencil” is mentioned by someone else but his grandmother without the intentionality of conveying the 5-fold meaning of the pencil.
3. Semiotics and the other sciences - the future (?). Conclusions
The questions of semiotic decoding and encoding and intentionality, appear to be under the umbrella of certain biological and cultural factors. Examples of these factors with summarized methodological investigations had been discussed in the paper. There are still questions, however, that had not been addressed and that would provide curious opportunities for future research (by an interdisciplinary field).
For example, the connection between language and emotion needs to be explored further before one reaches the next level of metaphor understanding. A phenomenon that has not received attention by researchers so far can be observed daily by people using different languages for daily communication. Cursing in a foreign language is perceived to be much easier to do than in a mother tongue due to their detachment from the primary language center, which has direct connections to emotional sectors which regulate the use of language. As such, one does not experience difficulties or discomforts in using the words. Analogically, one may also not feel identical when saying “I love you” in a mother tongue and a second language.
Another fascinating field in need of further exploration is the existence of internal representations of the sign-function, which are back projected in the brain from the higher level cognitive processing regions to the lower levels. The brain possesses systems for the creation of an image to stimulate the same areas in the brain that would be stimulated if an actual observation is made (e.g. the verbalization of a word creates the visual characteristics of this same word - when one says “spoon”, one literally can see a spoon). This has great implications for cross-modal communication and cross-modal plasticity. These findings have even greater implications for semiotics when coupled with the emotional hypothesis as they suggest that the sign-function relationship is not necessarily intrinsic to the object, but are rather created by the interpreter who put the meaning in the object. The same would be implied by the metaphor development outlined in section 2.4 and by the context influences as outlined in point 2.3.
Further support can be derived from an brief analysis of the “pencil” story. With her intention to create a particular background, the grandmother tells the boy the story. The created context of the boy’s surprise urges the grandmother to explain more. The intentionality to convey the message of the pencil and its 5 associative descriptions, is conveyed to the boy who learns the 5 characteristics and activates those associations every time the boy hears “pencil” when someone else mentions it. He can very actively visualize the pencil with its 5 characteristics (plus all the additional levels which are more intrinsic to the pencil as they have been outlined according to Eco’s guidelines).
The connection between the understanding of the communication context from the perspective of theory of semiotics and that of other disciplines appears to be very strong. The different approaches only support each other emphasizing different aspects and explaining different parts of the process. Semiotics is concerned with the human conception while psychology and neuroscience are interesting in how the human conception works in terms of processes in the brain and cultural differences. It appears that the sciences complement each other.
The understanding that has been accumulated since Saussure has achieved new levels. It is now clear that there is a dissociation between interpretation and intentionality, that there are multiple meanings associated with a sign and that there is no single correct interpretation - these features are part of the new theory of semiotics. The story by Coelho have been used here to illustrate this new theory. The dissociation between the interpretation and the intentionality of a message has been illustrated to rely on the created contextual information, on the displayed emotional expression, and on the semantic network created at the moment of transferring the message. The connection between the sign, the function and the attached symbolic meaning can be explored even more with the input that affective neuroscience can bring. Coelho’s story is a starting point. All that is left to do is to create the metaphors and rationalize them for the communication partner.
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Paulo Coelho, Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections
A boy was watching his grandmother write a letter. At one point he asked: ‘Are you writing a story about what we’ve done? Is it a story about me?’
His grandmother stopped writing her letter and said to her grandson: ‘I am writing about you, actually, but more important than the words is the pencil I’m using. I hope you will be like this pencil when you grow up.’
Intrigued, the boy looked at the pencil. It didn’t seem very special. ‘But it’s just like any other pencil I’ve ever seen!’
‘That depends on how you look at things. It has five qualities which, if you manage to hang on them, will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.
‘First quality: you are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and He always guides us according to His will.
‘Second quality: now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpner. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too, must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because they will make you a better person.
‘Third quality: the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.
‘Fourth quality: what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.
‘Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality: it always leaves a mark. in just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action’