LINGUIST List 14.1735

Thu Jun 19 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis: Muller & Fischer (2002)

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  1. Margarita Balamakova, From Sign to Signing: Iconicity in Language and Literature

Message 1: From Sign to Signing: Iconicity in Language and Literature

Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 13:16:21 +0000
From: Margarita Balamakova <>
Subject: From Sign to Signing: Iconicity in Language and Literature

Muller, Wolfgang G. and Fischer, Olga, ed. (2002) From Sign to
Signing: Iconicity in Language and Literature 3. John Benjamins
Publishing Co.

Announced at

Margarita Balamakova, English Philology Department, 
Ivanovo State University (Russia)
The volume under review concludes the three-part collection of papers
originally given at the Third Symposium on Iconicity in Language and
Literature held at Jena, March 29-31, 2001 by joint efforts of the
University of Jena, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of
Zurich. The research objects cover a wide range of sign instances from
an imagic to a diagrammatic kind and far beyond, as it is stated in
the introduction ''From Signing back to Signs'', where the book
editors Olga Fischer and Wolfgang G. Muller trace the history of
signs-and-signing research back to when it started as a theory
(1960s), and overview its development up to the present edition. The
collection of works has 5 sections, each dealing with a certain aspect
of iconicity studies. Every research presentation is supplemented with
a list of reference works.
Part I. Auditory and visual signs and signing
''The influence of sign language iconicity on semantic
conceptualization'' by Klaudia Grote and Erika Linz investigates the
role of iconicity in signed language emphasizing the context's impact
on sign interpretation, thus creating another not-so-orthodox variant
of linguistic relativity.
''What You See Is What You Get: Iconicity and metaphor in the visual
language of written and signed poetry: A cognitive poetic approach''
by William J. Herlofsky also presents an experimental study of
iconicity, now in Japanese sign language, as viewed through metaphor
analysis within a cognitive approach to language.
''Spatial iconicity in two English verb classes'' by Axel Hubler is a
result of his studies in gestures as used by speakers of a spoken
language: the strong connection between linguistic signs and gestures
is proved by a change in the former caused by a loss of the latter,
and vice versa, thus providing a compensation for the missing element
of one conceptual whole.
''What imitates birdcalls?: Two experiments on birdcalls and their
linguistic representations'' by Keiko Masuda explores a similar link
between two sign groups of different physical origin, namely, between
oral signs of birdcalls as real-world sounds and those imitated by us
as linguistic signs.
Part II. Visual iconicity and iconic mapping
''Perspective in experimental shaped poetry: A semiotic approach'' by
John J. White has resulted from a study of shaped poetry (a
'cross-breed' between poetry and visual arts) through semiotic
approach to its typographical iconicity exemplified in the evolution
of perspective; it covers a broad range of sources from Italian
Futurists to the turn-of-the- century ''holopoems'' in order to
explore iconic signification from the point of view of perceptual
conventions and cultural codes.
''Where reading peters out: Iconic images in the entropic text'' by
Julian Moyle is a in-depth research paper exploring creative outlook
of a poet reflected in his works and explicated in their visual
representation: the iconic image of a poem can reach far beyond what
eye sees and mind perceives.
''Iconic representation of space and time in Vladimir Sorokin's novel
''The Queue'' (Ochered')'' by Andreas Ohme uncovers expressive textual
means and their two-dimensional analogs seen on a book page: a queue
of Soviet people to buy consumer goods in its endless length and fuzzy
communication is visualized by typographic means, thus revealing the
ideology and reality of Soviet era through textual iconicity.
''Vision and Prayer'': Dylan Thomas and the Power of X'' by Matthias
Bauer explores yet another piece of shaped poetry that is seemingly
easy to understand; however, further analysis accounts for the poem's
mystical geometry, which has no straight-forward connection with its
content but requires an in-depth exploration of the poet's
''Diagrams in narrative: Visual strategies in contemporary fiction''
by Christina Ljungberg deals with postmodernist fiction as empiric
material for research in its visual constituents and their iconic
significance; explored is the interaction of non-verbal phenomena like
maps and photographs with their all-verbal surrounding.
Part III. Structural iconicity
''The iconicity of Afrikaans reduplication'' by C. Jac Conradie
studies a fairly recent phenomenon in Afrikaans - reduplication - that
preserved its clearly iconic nature since it underwent little
''Diagrammatic iconicity in the lexicon: Base and derivation in the
history of German verbal word-formation'' by Volker Harm
diachronically approaches the history of German to expose the iconic
representation of a semantically marked meaning in a morphologically
marked form where the initial form (stem) bears the initial
(prototypical) meaning; traced is the tendency for derivations as
prefixed forms to acquire peripheral meanings.
''Creative syntax: Iconic principles within the symbolic'' by Beate
Hampe and Doris Schonefeld goes beyond word boundaries: verb phrases
can be combined with new, non-standard, arguments, thus forming
argument frames whose perception can be achieved through comparing
them with same-range frames of more general verbs; this type of
iconicity is similar to the one of a metaphor.
''Aspects of grammatical iconicity in English'' by Gunter Rohdenburg
is devoted to investigating grammatical variation from the point of
view of its form and factors determining it in modern English:
observed is the iconic effect of the principles of quantity and of
distance as they are applied to the connection between grammatical
form and its referential meaning.
''Beatrice: or The geometry of love'' by Wilhelm Potters 'verifies
harmony by algebra' (A. Pushkin): intertextual relation between
Dante's two famous works undergoes a numerological and geometrical
investigation of the iconicity that relates them.
''How metaphor and iconicity are entwined in poetry: A case in Haiku''
by Masako K. Hiraga also exposes the iconicity of poetry, though at a
different angle; the author views metaphor in a haiku in the context
of structure-and-meaning interaction.
Part IV. Intermedial iconicity
''Intermedial iconicity in fiction: Tema con variazioni'' by Werner
Wolf discusses 'pictorialization', 'filmicization', and
'musicalization' of fiction as instances of literature functioning as
if through a different medium while using its borrowed expressive
''Iconicity and literary translation'' by Elzbieta Tabakowska focuses
on the translator's duty to preserve the original iconicity of the
source text in the translation text being created: she explores
theoretical grounds for translator's choices to be made.
Part V. New applications of sign theory
''Iconizing literature'' by Jorgen Dines Johansen is a theoretical
study of iconicity from a reader's perspective: not only the author
works on the text while creating its iconic image but the reader as
well - in the process of perception - decoding the text iconicity by
his/her own means and to his/her understanding.
''From signal to symbol: Towards a systems typology of linguistic
signs'' by Piotr Sadowski is an attempt to classify linguistic signs
into emotive, indexical, iconic, and arbitrary ones. The approach is
based on 'systems theory of information: information is segmented into
1) information proper and 2) para-information, the former being
treated as physical facts and the latter - as processing signals, i.e.
turning them into signs.
The volume contains useful tools for prompt orientation in its 424
text pages: Author Index and Subject Index, both alphabetically
Author Index (P. 425) contains 409 entries and provides quick access
to all proper names mentioned.
Subject Index (P. 433) is structured into 328 reference entries (some
having further subdivision) providing page numbers for the terms used.
What's in a sign? Anything that stands for something else - i.e. a
sign stands for an object or concept: the meaning is created both
through encoding (by the source) and decoding (by the receiver, or
reader - in semiotic analysis). F. de Saussure developed a construct:
a sound or image (a signifier) and the concept for which it stands
(the signified); being a linguist, Saussure saw the relationship
between these two as arbitrary (understood by convention) while
C. S. Peirce being a cognitive philosopher defined signs in a broader
way than language and focused on their links to the objects: signs are
of three types - icons, indexes, and symbols (Hoopes 1991:
239). Symbols are arbitrary, but icons and indexes are
motivated. Peirce defines an icon as similar to its subject - a
representation where likeness or resemblance is a determining
characteristic. Another important element is the notion of code (sign
system) that functions as a system of rules: semiotic code is broader
than just language, it various sign systems as kinesics, sign
language, fan language of medieval Europe, etc. Nature can be seen as
a system of coded signs: Eco argues that the roots of semiotic
interpretation are rooted in times when hunters and trackers could
read the signs of nature. Also important is the notion of the
interpretant: out of the initial dyad Peirce created a triadic
construct of sign-object-interpretant where by interpretant he meant
the idea contained in the concept as it is decoded or a subsequent
thought to which the sign gives rise (Hoopes 1991: 34).
Thus, a thought is a sign interpretation, an idea which provides the
link between cognition and communication; the meaning process (finding
the signified) is an infinite process of interpretation - to interpret
means to define a relationship (Eco 1986: 44). Some iconicity studies
are primarily focused on literature and language, and, as Deely notes
language has a privileged role in semiotics (1990: 27): Saussure was a
linguist and although he admitted that signs could be other than
words, his work privileged language as the most important sign
system. Likewise, the Moscow-Tartu school of semiotics (Ivanov,
Lotman, Toporov et al.) calls language a primary modeling system
because it uses natural language as its base, and all other sign
systems as secondary; natural language is often viewed as the primary
substructure for all other sign systems (Sebeok 1991: 50).
Considering the above-said, it looks quite natural that iconicity is
studied in language and literature: the book under review contains
careful case study analyses and in-depth philosophical explorations of
the boundaries of iconicity in the twenty-first century. The book
representing the whole series is a crucial resource for anyone
studying signs and signing today as it explores various technologies
of signing, starts new directions in philological research and creates
unusual intersections of critical thought in contemporary culture. The
collection of works facilitates cross- disciplinary dialogues:
certainties and assumptions about signs and signing undergo critical
exploration in a variety of objects from everyday life artifacts to
most complicated mental constructs.
This kind of a book has been needed to give the now flourishing field
of iconicity studies a sense of its scope and direction and to make a
significant contribution to understanding the aesthetic and ethical
implications of the changing world. That is why those lucky to have
attended the Third Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature
(2001) at Jena will now virtually grow in numbers thanks to the
current edition - collection of its works - as they will find it an
invaluable resource for further research. Yet, I wish I had been
1. Deely, J. 1990. Basics of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press.

2. Eco, U. 1986. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Midland Book Edition.

3. Hoopes, J. Peirce on Signs. 1991. Chapel Hill NC: The University of
North Carolina Press.

4. Sebeok, Th. A. 1991. A Sign is Just a Sign. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.

Margarita Balamakova is an associate professor, PhD, at the Department
of English Philology, Ivanovo State University (Russia) currently
teaching English and new information technologies in linguistics to
future language professionals and current language teachers. She is
the Director of IvSU Linguistic Center. Language application spheres
of top interest are cross-cultural communication and translation;
recent research projects deal with text production and perception in
the Internet.
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