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Semiotics and linguistics (in the modern sense) emerge at the same time and in the same book, Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale. So, they share many of the same analytical tools and many of the same theories. The difference is that semioticians, by and large, seek to understand the connection between language and other meaning-making codes, from the nonverbal to the artistic. The ancient Greek philosophers defined language as logos, the faculty that had transformed the human being from an insentient brute into a rational animal. However, they also saw language as a potentially dangerous weapon for inflicting harm upon others. Even today, there is a widespread tendency to blame linguistically based misunderstandings for many of the world’s ills, from conflicts between individuals to wars between nations. Clearly, understanding what language is and what it allows us to do, socially, conceptually, and creatively, is a central aim of semiotics. This chapter looks at how we learn to speak in infancy without any specific training, through just exposure to samples of it; at the relation between language, culture, and cognition; at the relation between vocal language and written language; at how language and writing are evolving in the age of the Internet; at the nature of slang; at the relation between vocal speech and language; and finally, at the connection between language and common rituals.
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