Territory? Hunger? Basic reasons for the origin of semiotics.


pic: australopithecus

Territory? Hunger? Basic reasons for the origin of semiotics.

The need to communicate is very basic.


Australopithecus, one of the longest-lived and best-known early human species probably communicated by signs, in some way.


It is actually very simple to understand this. Say for instance, you are a member of a group, that is doing a task. Sooner, or later, you will ask someone in your group about something, or for something. If you have a common language, you will speak. Else you will gesture. As simple as that!


The most important reason to gesture would be, ‘this is my food’ or ‘this is my territory’. Hence, language is more than just speech.


This leads us to believe that the evolutionary reality of all language is a system of signs. In the beginning of time, meaning was not ‘transmitted’ – it was created actively according to an interplay of the environment and the message to be conveyed.


Compulsions such as hunger, territory and ownership are strong enough incentives, to compel the species to try and evolve a way to convey messages.


Becoming aware of such codes is both inherently fascinating and intellectually empowering.


Semiotics, a branch of science deals with this. It teaches us that we live in a world of signs and we have no way of understanding anything except through signs and the codes into which they are organized. The study of signs is the study of the construction and maintenance of reality. How did our ancestors do it?


Lucy, the representative specimen of Australopithecus, had a brain similar in size and structure to chimpanzees. Experiments with chimpanzees show that they are able to learn and understand simple sign language. This has been called ‘protolanguage’ because it lacks the syntax and grammar of modern language.


The next species, homo habilis could make tools and hence, new reasons to communicate were born. Eg; the use and storage of tools, collaborative hunting etc. With time, rudimentary messages like ownership and hunger evolved to much more evolved concepts such as rituals governing birth and death.


Hence, linguistics which is a part of semiotics, clearly emerged much later in evolution.


Signs take the form of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. Echoing the legendary linguist Saussure, ‘semiology’ was ‘a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life’. This is a very important part of the evolution of anthroposemiotics, the field dedicated to understanding human communication.

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