Category Archives: Semiotics

Multifaceted Living

On the sliding scale of time that gradiently builds and ebbs and recedes I am perpetually being re-context-ed and being iteratively re-inserted into particular frames of reference and spheres of existence.  I am simultaneously (at this point in time) (in no particular order) physically framed: a mortal, a human, and a male; overlapping-ly framed: a man, a child, a son, a husband, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, an occasional ass, but most of the time decent; functionally framed:an employee, a husband (again), a neighbor, a citizen, a representative, a cook, a linguist, and a discourse analyst; and characteristically framed: creative, a reader, obstinate, sour-faced when I am actually quite contented and happy, a driven individual, annoying, entertaining, friendly, unconcerned with things some people think I ought to be concerned about, temperate, calm, chaotic, paradoxical, slimy, ambiguous, wrong, right, and indifferent.

As individuals we have many types of roles and expectations.

These roles and expectations have a place in community.

Let’s assume that individuality exists because there is community.  Let’s agree that community on a macro-level means relationship.  Community defines the application of our roles, defines the way that we relate to the community at large.  Throughout life we have the option to naturally accept or naturally decline participation in any given role.

Our descriptive and identifying labels probably exists because of some micro-role played out in some micro-plot-line of thought or action or interaction or relation.

For me, like any other human, each particular facet of my being carries a whole set of relationships and contexts that also need to be understood if I am to be understood in full.  For instance, being a husband suggests a living spouse, which at one point meant a new marriage, which meant in-laws, which meant new grandparents, most likely new siblings, and new aunts and uncles.  If the actual relationships were not so big of a factor in defining that new portion of my identity, then certainly, the way in which those relatives perceived me in context of how they perceived my spouse certainly carried some sort of value and created expectations for me (including the way I was to interact as a new and extended member of the family).  Furthermore, if family isn’t enough, there were new friends with whom I also entered into relationship, including their sets of expectations, ad nausea.  And this is only the external relations in marriage – I have left aside any relations and expectations that I shared with my spouse.

What about the rest of the roles?  It starts getting crazy when you try to make sense of it all.

In addition to holding a variety of roles I also have sets of attributes that are either activated or deactivated depending on which role I am satisfying.  These attributes are features that define and differentiate so that you can determine who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and why, and how, and when, and where.  I am tour staff, I am the person who knows how to get to Pittsburgh, I am short so I am not the person to change the lightbulb, I am quick so I am the person to run down the street and catch the delivery driver because he forgot a package, I am whatever I am, in terms of attributes, in terms of adjectives.

This is not compartmentalizing; this is maximizing self-awareness to harness it as a tool to leverage the options placed before me.  This reminds me of that Aboriginal saying:  The more you know the less you need.  I know myself.  If we do not know our capabilities, our roles, our nature, then we cannot expect to market those skills to the people who find them valuable in employees, in dates, in spouses, in friends, it voters, et cetera.  Although I am not an objectivist, Ayn Rand tells us that absolutely the writer must know the essentials if they are to write anything of value at all.

You as a multi-hat wearing individual absolutely must know your essence if you are to accomplish anything at all.

As we grow older and accumulate hats we learn that roles do the things they are able to do because of gained experience and knowledge.  Time changes student into teacher, child into adult.  But some roles can overlap and occur simultaneously, such as child, student, pitcher, class clown, et cetera.  Holding a particular role does not necessarily preclude an individual from holding other particular roles.  It may preclude, but it does not necessarily preclude.

Roles overlap and occur simultaneously, some precede, some follow, some preclude at particular times, and others are instances of roles filled immaturely in more mature ways; iterations of roles that continue perpetually until our bones petrify, (skeleton is a meronym of body…that means skeleton is a part of body), or roles that we chose to turn on and off, but irrespective of the time slots that the roles fill they occur between the womb and the tomb, riga tiga tum tum.

I am not your friend until you meet me.

Without being my friend, you can still know the intimate fact based on my usage of “womb” and “tomb” with that nonsensical four word sequence in the prior paragraph that I am culturally literate enough in some particular culture to be able to reference West Side Story.

And we all know so much.

We can’t be satisfied to know that we have an identity or a personality, or that we belong to any particular culture or collection of cultures.  We need to want to know what to do with that knowledge.  We need something more here.  But we operate on a daily basis with the awareness that we need to know our materials and our tools in order to do anything productively creative with our skills and resources.  Accordingly, we need to investigate the nature of our identities, how our identities converge to belong to cultures, how those cultural memberships alter our identities, and then how to use that knowledge in our chaotically complex lives; we need to practice multifaceted learning for this multifaceted living.

http://ryandewey.org/Multifaceted_Living.html

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.

In BUSINESS:

If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.

In DESIGN:

Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.

In TECHNOLOGY:

Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.

In LIFE WITH PEOPLE:

When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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Maple Keys remind me of a Taxonomy chart

Silver Maple. Seeds.

Image via Wikipedia

I was thinking about maple keys recently.

The maple key is an interesting schema of a taxonomy; the kernel is like a category node – the top-level domain.  Each vein in the wing of the seed branching away from the node is a trace of the path along which the line of membership in the category emerges as an [instance] of a membership [type].

On a slightly more abstract note, the veins also forecast a resemblance of the future roots and branches of the eventual tree, and in a way alluding to the further growth of category membership as each tree root eventually supports the life of the tree so that each tree branch can ultimately produce more seeds so that it might perpetuate, exponentially, the life of this tree of knowledge.

 

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Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere is a unpublished model of cognition that I began developing in the late ninety’s and early years of 2000 as a result of my training in linguistics and anthropology.  I worked on it before I knew what Cognitive Linguistics actually was and, in fact, it was part of my conversion to CogLing.  With a nod to remix culture and assemblage theory, this model tried to blend together several validated models of discourse and culture in a super feeble attempt to bridge the epistemological gulf between realism and relativism and explain the complete communication picture in a systematic and procedurally elegant way (read: quasi-arbitrary).  This was the early days of my interest in systems theory, but I was really naive about the complexity of complexity.  Basically, the more that I worked on the model the more I came to see that Cognitive Linguistics already had working solutions to a lot of the questions I was addressing.  In fact, when I read back through my notes now, I see that it is actually a model of attention and dynamic construal.  I won’t tell you anything more about the mechanics right now, but I expect that one day I will pull it back off the shelf and show it to the world; in the mean time, here is an analogy from my original manuscript (part of which is in this book) for you to chew on:

“Pick the white puff of seeds on a dandelion clock, pick the stem and hold it in your hand, and meticulously and decidedly, remove every single floating seed, one-by-one until there is only one remaining.  This is what the first thought does when it moves to the second thought.  You have deselected every seed, ignored them all but one, the one you highlighted, the one you lit up – the one you selected.  This, the lone seed on the stem, a sphere at the base, the rod line of the seed body, and the end of the seed a circle of tiny white hairs that extend radially from the stem in many many directions, this seed is a snapshot. You are holding in your hand the most natural visible representation of how your thoughts live and travel.  Now put that last seed up to your mouth and do the wind’s job and send that seed floating.  Where it lands it either develops or dies, just like your thought.”

“If you can take a line of thought and follow it to every dead-end, out every open door and window, to every destination – and catch it resting – you will see simply and plain how lawless and unruly even simple thoughts are in their brief lives.”

You can view images from my portfolio that were inspired through this process at: RyanDewey.org

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On Failure & Resilience in Optimization of Human Systems, Ecological Systems, and Networked Systems of Systems

I was recently watching Eleanor Saitta’s talk called “Your Infrastructure Will Kill You“.  Part of her talk outlined how optimization equals fragility (more or less).  That to the degree that something is cleaner, more elegant, or more efficient, it is fragile, and a break in the system can be potentially catastrophic.

In thinking about her comments I thought of a few examples where I have observed optimization creating a state of fragility, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • This has interesting considerations for general principles of design, specifically the form/function aspect of design. Probably the point at which form begins to extend beyond the needs of function the focus on form becomes gratuitous and potentially even hazardous (depending on the type of system).  Ironically, optimization in this case is not absolute optimization, but only optimization considering a specific set of requirements: when things are running smoothly then the system is optimized.
  • Another place for failure is when relationships are optimized; when the dispersal of information through a system relies on optimized relationships it only takes the breaking of one of the nodes in a network to create a chain reaction of subsequent nodes being uninformed.We think about how a well-connected network effectively distributes information, specifically in recent thought this informed an analysis of William Dawes vs. Paul Revere – showing how Revere’s relationship of network brokers enabled him to broadcast more extensively than Dawes’ impoverished closed network.  This is good thinking, except that it misses the point of threat: Revere was a weak link in that optimized chain of information; had he been eliminated his message would have been eliminated.  Revere and his network, although connected and optimized, were fragile.
  • In generative linguistics there is an optimization of the lexicon. Economy in space is valued above economy in processing; if this is opaque to you, I mean that generative linguistics tries to minimize the amount of information that it stores as unique units.  It is called “generative” because it generates complex utterances from values stored in the lexicon through recursion, instead of storing those values as wholes.  But there is a weakness; in optimizing the lexicon the generative power of the spell-out rules of Universal Grammar are fragile when it comes to dealing with actual language usage (which is the test of a linguistic theory, is it not?), and the rules fail to account for some foundational constructions of language (like idioms for example).

Ok, so there are lots of places where optimization leads to failure, but what are some ways in which optimization leads to resilience?  What are some solutions to these problems?

Redundancy is a great solution, but it is bulky.

  • When function is optimized it allows you to work backwards in the process of making things have better forms. This is actually how a lot of design progresses.  Think about how every piece of electronic technology that we have today had a larger predecessor.  Think about those clunky mobile phones from the eighties with the handset, base and cord in a leather bag, now look at the mobile phone you carry in your pocket.  Functionality was concept proven in the clunky design, and the form was optimized to enhance the function.
  • It seems to me that the optimization weakness in the Revere incident was that Revere was the weak link.  Instead of depending on the optimization of Revere’s relationships, perhaps the message itself needed optimization. One possible way to optimize the information load of a message is to abstract it (as was done with the signal of the hanging lanterns to indicate the route of attack), and another way is to reduce dependence upon a single messenger exploiting a network (In 1775 the sexton who hung the lanterns was a single messenger, Revere was a single messenger, et cetera).  Flooding a network with messengers bearing an abstracted signal would have been less fragile (put aside for the moment the need for secrecy in the 1775 incident).  In situations where secrecy is not vital, consider how this kind of network flooding would communicate the coherence of the message; when you hear the same thing from five people you at least start giving some credence to the constancy of the message.  In such cases what may have been unknown or even background information becomes salient and foregrounded through repeated exposure. Also, consider other types of signals that can be exploited to prompt a response of crowd mobilization, noises work particularly well.  Sirens and loud noises alert and orient people’s attentional systems toward the source of the signal, and that source becomes figural in the contextual noise of that signal.
  • Optimization can lead to resilience in online processing, like in a maximized lexicon that places the task of optimization on the processing skills required in the selection and extraction of form-meaning elements from the inventory.  Cognitive approaches to the lexicon seek to preserve economy in processing; instead of having a minimal lexicon with lots of processing rules, the cognitive approach has an ordered inventory of form-meaning pairings (including monomorphemic elements, constructions, and phrases that are learned whole), with an optimized processing system of constraints, schemas, and other elements of cognitive processing (see this week’s post on emergentist vs. universalist view for understanding the contrast in general cognitive processing vs. modular mind).
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Inherent Narratives in Ad Hoc Collections

Part of my portfolio includes this project called Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies, it is an exploration into how any ad hoc grouping of objects has some kind of inherent narrative, albeit a selected and limited narrative; but it is a narrative nonetheless.

When I was a boy I remember my father keeping a box of items that meant a lot to him.  I keep a box like this too.  The Italian blacksmith that I apprenticed under also kept boxes of items, but on a different scale; when he died I got one of those boxes: we call it a storage unit in American English. Continue reading

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What does Soulwax’s website, DJing, & Construction Grammar have in common?

Soulwax’s website extends an invitation for viewers to participate in DJing as they explore the website.  From my first exposure this has been an amazing experience.  The intuitive guided navigation doubles as a loading of the clips so that your browser cache holds the clip for later manipulation in the mixing.  If you patiently experience each of the clips instead of navigating away from the site, you will get the chance to mix the video loops and beats by clicking your mouse. Continue reading

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Why I Believe in Cut & Paste as a Design Strategy

Scissors

Image via Wikipedia

Cut & Paste is not just a keyboard function.  In fact, R.G. Collingwood coined the term in the mid 1940′s in his book The Idea of History, but being a more formal speaker of a more formal ancestor of colloquial English he called it the “scissors and paste” method and was critical of it as a tool in historical method (33, Collingwood: 1946).

Nonetheless he did use the term and since then it has come to be used rather frequently as a tool in questionable secondary research, or as a way to validate and situate a claim in a historical context.  I think Collingwood’s problem with scissors and paste was that it was just a patchwork manipulation of existing work by people who were not historical eyewitnesses, and therefore outside of the bounds of science.  In essence, what was cut out and pasted lacked appropriate context and proper lineage, in fact, that has become a problem: it is called plagiarism. Continue reading

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Guest Post: The Digital Polis – Nicholas Carson Miller

I invited Nicholas Carson Miller to guest post on the shape of a particular internet culture…I hope you enjoy his work -SportLinguist

I. The New Prehistory

We can’t go ask ancient peoples what was going on when they decided to get together and start building cities. Frustratingly, none of the folks involved in the development of prehistoric communities are still around to ask and weren’t kind enough to leave detailed ethnographic and historical accounts of their experiences. Shame on them. We can, however, connect to the internet and observe the development of a new kind of community.

Early humans, tiring of wandering and hunting alone, began living around one another, trying their hands at farming, trading necessities and surpluses, and finding increasingly productive and complex ways to protect and govern the communities that developed. Early internet users logged on alone, visiting web pages and sending limited communications—but then a need for specialized communal activities lead to email lists, chat rooms, social networks, and, most interestingly, forums.

These internet communities, especially certain infamous and influential forums such as 4chan, Gaia Online, and Something Awful, are beginning to exhibit fascinating cultural trends that are to me reminiscent of early city-states. The development of the culture of these communities should be taken as a possible reflection of the development of real-world communities and is conveniently occurring right before our eyes at a highly accelerated rate. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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What I got for Christmas…

Integrantes de Daft Punk, banda francesa de mú...

Image via Wikipedia

  1. Daft Punk’s film “Electroma”
  2. Daft Punk’s album “Human After All”
  3. Gilles Fauconnier’s & Mark Turner’s “The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities”
  4. Stephen C. Levinson’s “Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”
  5. Stephen C. Levinson & David Wilkin’s “Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”

Sweet!

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Epenthesis, Truncation, and Phonetic Exploitation in Graffiti

Ridl und Crow

Image by liquidnight via Flickr

While riding the train to school last week I noticed that a lot of the graffiti contains allusions to a sort of folk-phonological understanding of phonemics.

This is not a criticism at all, in fact, from my usage-based perspective I find this to be a delightful exploitation of the English phonemic system…if you think about it, these tags reflect more of an understanding of the phonetic structure of language than do their “proper” & “grammatically correct” (ugh, I hate that concept) representations.

Take these into consideration: Ridl, HEK, HEDAKE, ACERT, from a linguistic perspective, these are pretty clever…even if you hate graffiti, you have to acknowledge that they are clever abstractions.

Anyway, I thought I would point it out…

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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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