The Dimensionality of Text and Picture and the Cross-Cultural Organization of Semiotic Complexes

  • Wolfgang Wildgen
Part of the Studies in Fuzziness and Soft Computing book series (STUDFUZZ, volume 209)


The distinction between picture and text involves a set of basic semiotic challenges. First, pictures are linked in their production to the motoricity of hands, in their receipt to the eye and the visual cortex. Language in its basic form, spoken language, is linked in its production to the motoricity of the human vocal apparatus (from the vocal cords to the lips) and in its perception by the ear and the auditory cortex. The dynamics of these four subsystems and moreover the coordination of the pairs of subsystems in production and reception define the base line of any comparison of picture and text. The fact that written texts map the characteristics of spoken texts onto the dynamics of hands and eyes (to abbreviate the more complete description above) points to the fact that transitions between the two basic modalities have been achieved in the last millennia. If we take abstract signs of the Palaeolithic as point of departure (cf. Wildgen [32, 34]), this (cultural) evolution has been running the last 30,000 years. An even deeper evolutionary opposition opposes manual/facial sign languages and spoken language. The origin of human language after the proto-language of Homo erectus was basically a dominance shift from a slower and less rich system, at least partially based on visual/motor articulations, to a much quicker and richer systems of phonetic/auditory articulation (cf. Wildgen [33]). We have no direct knowledge about the sign language of Homo erectus, but we may guess the characteristics of such a manually based language, if we consider modern signed languages. Due to the use of the manual/visual mode, they show, in spite of being constructed in parallel to existing phonetic languages, characteristic deviations (cf. Emmorey [5], and Lidell [10]). The most characteristic differences concern the diversity of parameters and the relevance of gradient subsystems. As [24] summarizes, spoken language has as major parameter the recombinant system based on phonetic quality.


Sign Language American Sign Language Symbolic Form Platonic Solid Biblical Text 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. [1]
    U. Becks-Malormy. Wassily Kandinsky. 1866-1944. Aufbruch zur Abstraktion. Benedikt, Köln, 1993.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    P. A. Brandt. Dynamique du sens. Études de sémiotique modale. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, 1994.Google Scholar
  3. [3]
    E. Cassirer. Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, volume 1-3. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 1923-1929.Google Scholar
  4. [4]
    N. Chomsky. Syntactic Structures. Mouton, The Hague, 1957.Google Scholar
  5. [5]
    K. Emmorey. Language, Cognition and the Brain: Insights from Sign Language Research. Erlbaum, Mahwah (NY), 2003.Google Scholar
  6. [6]
    H. Haken. Synergetik. Eine Einführung. Springer, Berlin/New York, 2 edition, 1983.Google Scholar
  7. [7]
    W. Herzogenrath, A. Buschho., and A. Vorwinkel. Paul Klee - Lehrer am Bauhaus (Ausstellungskatalog, Kunsthalle Bremen, 30.11.2003–29.02.2004). Hauschild, Bremen, 2003.Google Scholar
  8. [8]
    R. Jakobson. On Language. Edited by L. R. Waugh and M. Mouville-Burston. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990.Google Scholar
  9. [9]
    M. Leyton. Symmetry, Causality, Mind. MIT-Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992.Google Scholar
  10. [10]
    S. Lidell. Sources of Meaning in ASL Classifier Predicates. In K. Emmorey, editor, Perspectives on Classifier Constructions in Sign Language. Erlbaum, Mahwah (NY), 2003.Google Scholar
  11. [11]
    B. B. Mandelbrot. Die fraktale Geometrie der Natur. Birkhäuser, Basel, 1977/1992.Google Scholar
  12. [12]
    G. Nicolis and I. Prigogine. Exploring Complexity. An Introduction. Freeman, New York, 1989.Google Scholar
  13. [13]
    C. E. Osgood. Focus on Meaning. Mouton, The Hague, 1976.Google Scholar
  14. [14]
    H.-O. Peitgen, H. Jürgens, and D. Saupe. Bausteine des Chaos Fraktale. Springer, Berlin/New York, 1992.Google Scholar
  15. [15]
    J. Petitot-Cocorda. Les catastrophes de la parole. De Roman Jakobson à René Thom. Maloine, Paris, 1985.Google Scholar
  16. [16]
    J. Petitot-Cocorda. Physique du Sens. De la théorie des singularités aux structures sémio-narratives. Editions du CNRS, Paris, 1992.Google Scholar
  17. [17]
    C. Pollard and I. A. Sag. An Information Based Syntax and Semantics, volume 1: Fundamentals. CSLI, Stanford, 1987.Google Scholar
  18. [18]
    B. B. Rieger. Semiotic Cognitive Information Processing: Learning to Understand Discourse. A Systemic Model of Meaning Constitution. In R. Kühn, R. Menzel, U. Ratsch, M. N. Richter, and I.-O. Stamatescu, editors, Adaptivity and Learning. An Interdisciplinary Debate, pages 347-403. Springer, Berlin/New York, 2003.Google Scholar
  19. [19]
    N. Roelens. Cènes, Banquets et Festins. In S. Caliandro and A. Beyaert, editors, Espaces perçus, territoires imagés en art, pages 99-119. L'Harmattan, Paris, 2004.Google Scholar
  20. [20]
    F. Saint-Martin. Semiotics of Visual Language. Indiana U. P., Bloomington, 1990.Google Scholar
  21. [21]
    H.-J. Sandkühler and D. Pätzold, editors. Kultur und Symbol. Die Philosophie Ernst Cassirers. Metzler, Stuttgart, 2003.Google Scholar
  22. [22]
    J. Spahr. Paradies & Pastiches. Christoph Meriam, Basel, 1991.Google Scholar
  23. [23]
    I. Stewart. Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos. Penguin Books, London, 1989.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  24. [24]
    L. Talmy. Recombinance in the Evolution of Language. Chicago Journal of Linguistics, 39, 2005 (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  25. [25]
    A. Warhol. Catalogue Published for the Exhibition “Andy Warhol. The Last Supper”, Munich 27 May - 27 September 1998. Crantz, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998.Google Scholar
  26. [26]
    W. Wildgen. Difierentielle Linguistik, Entwurf eines Modells zur Beschreibung und Messung semantischer und pragmatischer Variation. Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1977.Google Scholar
  27. [27]
    W. Wildgen. Catastrophe Theoretic Semantics. An Elaboration and Application of René Thom's Theory. Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1982.Google Scholar
  28. [28]
    W. Wildgen. Process, Image, and Meaning. A Realistic Model of the Meanings of Sentences and Narrative Texts. Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1994.Google Scholar
  29. [29]
    W. Wildgen. Das kosmische Gedächtnis. Kosmologie, Semiotik und Gedächtnistheorie im Werke von Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M., 1998.Google Scholar
  30. [30]
    W. Wildgen. Die Darstellung von Hand (Gestik) und Auge (Blick) in einigen Werken von Leonardo da Vinci. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the German Association of Semiotics, Kassel, August 2002.Google Scholar
  31. [31]
    W. Wildgen. Die Sprache - Cassirers Auseinandersetzung mit der zeitgen össischen Sprachwissenschaft und Sprachtheorie. In H. J. Sandkühler and D. Pätzold, editors, Kultur und Symbol. Die Philosophie Ernst Cassirers, pages 171-201. Metzler, Stuttgart, 2003.Google Scholar
  32. [32]
    W. Wildgen. The Evolution of Human Languages. Scenarios, Principles, and Cultural Dynamics. Benjamins, Amsterdam, 2004.Google Scholar
  33. [33]
    W. Wildgen. The Paleolithic Origins of Art, its Dynamic and Topological Aspects, and the Transition to Writing. In M. Bax, B. van Heusden, and W. Wildgen, editors, Semiotic Evolution and the Dynamics of Culture, pages 117-153. Peter Lang, Bern, 2004.Google Scholar
  34. [34]
    W. Wildgen. éléments Narratifs et Argumentatifs de l' “Ultime Cène” dans la Tradition Picturale du XIIe au XXe Siècle. In S. Caliandro and A. Beyaert, editors, Espaces perçus, territoires imagés en art. Harmadan, Paris, in press.Google Scholar
  35. [35]
    W. Wildgen. Time, Motion, Force, and the Semantics of Natural Languages. Antwerp Papers of Linguistics. Universiteit Antwerpen, in press.Google Scholar
  36. [36]
    W. Wildgen and L. Mottron. Dynamische Sprachtheorie. Sprachbeschreibung und Spracherklärung nach den Prinzipien der Selbstorganisation und der Morphogenese. Brockmeyer, Bochum, 1987.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Wildgen
    • 1
  1. 1.Bremen UniversityBremen

Personalised recommendations