Semiotics in Buddhism | Daily News


 

Semiotics in Buddhism

The ancient scholastics defined a sign as aliquid stat pro aliquo, (something stands for something else), Signs allow us to infer something that is not evident, something hidden or absent, based on the presupposition offered by the sign. Signs are phenomena that represent other phenomena.

Anything can function as a sign since signs do not have predetermined, prototypical properties like say, a bird or a sewing machine. Instead, the properties of a sign are defined in terms of their relation to what is represented. A sign is a feature of language or behaviour which conveys meaning especially when used conventionally within a system such as speech, writing, gesture, dance etc.

It is also called a symbol Ferdinand de Saussure used this term to summarize the two-way arbitrary relationship which exists between a vehicle (a signifier) and a meaning (signified). The relationship itself is known as signification. Signs are found everywhere and everything is a sign.

Meaningful units

Any language is a sign system. The acoustic form of the linguistic sign possesses a double articulation. The first articulation is the division into an indeterminate number of small meaningful units called morphemes. These minimal signs are referred to as words by the non-linguists. They may be prefixes and suffixes. For instance, the word unconnectedness consists of four signs (meaningful elements) the negative prefix —un„ the verbal root- concern, the verbal/adjective suffix —ed and the substantive suffix -ness. When we speak or write- we use different signs.

The characteristic feature of the language, however, is the second articulation, the division into the smallest units of sounds that are not meaningful but serve a meaning-distinctive function. These are called phonemes. Consider the words net and ten where changing the positions of n and t.

If we reverse the order of the consonants, e.g. from ten to net, the meaning changes entirely. A language is fully adequate to form new signs, new words, or new roots. When we write the word Buddha there is a sound image that refers to a concept with conceptual meaning. For instance, dark clouds signify rain;trees bending signify the direction of the wind that is blowing, a baby's photograph is an icon of the actual baby as well as a symbol of innocence;a red traffic light at a road crossing conventionally signifies that the vehicle should be stopped, and the Lion Flag represents Sri Lanka.

Signifier and signified

The meaning is conventional and arbitrary. There is a relationship between the sound image (signifier) and the concept (signified). The distinction between the three types of sign-iconic, indexical and symbolic, has been introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce. The distinction is based on the relationship between the sign and its dynamic object. if the relationship is based on similarity then the sign is iconic.

If it is contiguity (contact) then the sign is indexical and when the relationship is by the habit of denomination or interpretation, then the sign is symbolic. Linguistic signs are the prototypical symbolic signs (Larsen &Johnsen, 2002), In Buddhism, sign (sanna or samjna) is the third of the five aggregates (skandha), It is the psychological faculty of perception or discernment. It is said to recognize the distinctive characteristics of things, for example by identifying different colours.

It is sixfoldconcerningthe perception of the objects of the five senses plus the ideas perceived by the mind. Sometimes the term is used simply in the sense of ‘idea’ or ‘concept’, especially in lists of meditation topics (for example, anitya-samjana) as the concept of impermanence.

The most commonly used symbolic signs are impermanence (anicca) unsatisfactoriness/suffering (dukkha) and soullessness (anathma) respectively. But references to concrete and abstract concepts are essentially signs. For instance, the five aggregates of attachment (upadana-skandha), form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (samjana), volitional factors (samakara) and consciousness (vijnana) are signs. The English terms generally do not convey the exact meaning of the Pali terms.


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