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Cobley, Paul (2014)
Publisher: De Gruyter
Languages: English
Types: Article
The concept of code has a long and varied history across the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. In the interdisciplinary field of biosemiotics it has been foundational through the idea of code duality (Hoffmeyer and Emmeche 1991); yet it has not been free from controversy and questions of definition (see, for example, Barbieri 2010). One reason why code has been so central to modern semiotics is not simply a matter of the linguistic heritage of semiology and the work of Jakobson who straddled both semiology and semiotics. Rather, it has been the programmatic reconceptualization of code which is woven through the work of modern semiotics’ founder, the father of both biosemiotics and zoosemiotics, Thomas A. Sebeok. A biologist manqué, a communication theorist influenced by cybernetics and a semiotician deriving from the ‘major tradition’ of Peirce, arguably Sebeok’s most systematic considerations of code were offered in his essays on zoosemiotics, largely from his 1963 coining of the term onwards. This article principally revisits the 1972 collection of Sebeok’s zoosemiotic essays and suggests that his particular observations in respect of analogue and digital codes and their relation to evolution in the world of animals harbours an opportunity to rethink and potentially resolve, through an ethological lens, current controversies regarding the status of code.
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