Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Native American History

Native American History - Early History

The History of Native Americans is both fascinating and in many ways, tragic. Estimates range from about 10 – 90 million Native Americans inhabited America at the time of the European arrivals. They had lived in the land many, many years before white man set foot on their soil. It is believed that during the ice age, they had traveled a land-bridge across the Bering Sound, from Siberia into what is now Alaska. They had gradually migrated across the land and southward into Mexico and beyond. The name “Indian” was given them by Christopher Columbus who mistakenly believed he had landed in the Indies.

They have been labeled Indians, American Indians, and the now preferred Native Americans. They migrated to all regions of the land and were formed into many different tribes or nations. These were a people who adapted well to their particular regions and made wise use of all natural resources available. They believed in respecting the land and the abundance of gifts it offered. They became proficient fishermen, hunters, farmed crops such as corn, and built homes with whatever available resources their territory provided. Some of these included animal skins, sun-dried brick for adobes, or lumber for long houses depending on the regions.

Native American History - Native Americans and the Europeans

The Native Americans of the east coast met the new 16th and 17th century visitors from Europe with enthusiasm. They regarded these bearded white men as strange but were delighted with the steel knives, mirrors, copper kettles, and other intriguing novelties. The indigenous tribes were more than accommodating and hospitable. Without their aid, the first waves of settlers would not have survived in the land they knew little about.

But in time the Europeans disregarded all respect for the valued land and resources and instead displayed insatiable greed and arrogance. The Europeans soon pursued their intent to conquer this new continent with brutal attacks and invasion. The Native Americans soon realized that the invaders would arrive in overwhelming numbers, as many “as the stars in heaven.” Initially, the people of this land tried to co-exist with the Europeans. But many more problems arose. With all their intriguing gadgets, the white men brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans.

The colonists and explorers brought measles, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, and many more devastating diseases. This drastically diminished the Native American population and annihilated entire villages. In addition to this, the arrogant attitude of the ever-growing whites led to the Indian Wars, the Indian Removal Act (1830), and in 1890 one of the worst massacres ever -- Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Here warriors, women, and children alike were ferociously slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry. The U.S, government began Relocation Programs and the now famous Trail of Tears march where hundreds of Cherokee died from starvation, exposure, and illnesses. The Native American peoples were not only reduced in number but taken from their homes, stripped of their customs, and even forbidden to speak their native languages. Their children were taken from them and sent to schools to “civilize” them, forced to abandon every aspect of their heritage. In January 1876, the U.S. government forced them to live on ‘reservations’ where the majority of Native Americans still reside today.

Native American History - The 20th Century Native Americans

Some consider Native Americans as a resilient people. The Indian Citizen Act of 1924 offered official citizenship to the Native American tribes. This was partly due to the heroic service of many of them in World War I. Others like Jim Thorpe, Sequoyah, and Sacajawea have represented their people with greatness. There are well over 500 recognized tribal governments currently in the U.S. They are self-governed and considered to be sovereign nations of people within America. There are currently more than 2.48 million Native Americans, according to the 2000 census bureau.

While most still live on the reservations, they are considered some of the most poverty-ridden areas in the United States. Unemployment is 5 times higher than the general U. S. population, according to the 2002 Bureau of Indian Affairs. As with many defeated, oppressed people, they have suffered tremendously from the plagues of alcoholism and suicide. These were once a vibrant and resourceful people. They have been robbed, humiliated, and removed from all they knew. Though many have tried through the centuries to civilize, Christianize, and Americanize the Native American people, there are organizations today that recognize the important heritage of these nations. For example, Wiconi International says “we want to see Indigenous people come to know and experience ultimate freedom, and deliverance from the powers of darkness that still prevail in lands and communities…”

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Native American History - Part 2


Other than Neolithic Revolution, "Neolithic" is used to describe advanced stone age cultures in Eurasia, Africa, and other regions and is not usually used to describe Native American cultures. Thearchaeological periods used are the classifications of archaeological periods and cultures established in Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips' 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology. They divided the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases., see Archaeology of the Americas.
According to the most generally accepted theory of the settlement of the Americas, migrations of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The number and composition of the migrations is still being debated. Falling sea levels associated with an intensive period of Quaternary glaciation created theBering land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska about 60,000–25,000 years ago. The latest this migration could have taken place is 12,000 years ago; the earliest remains undetermined.
Three major migrations occurred, as traced by linguistic and genetic data; the early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes.[19][20] By 8000 BCE the North American climate was very similar to today's.[21] A study published in 2012 gives genetic backing to the 1986 theory put forward by linguist Joseph Greenberg that the Americas must have been populated in three waves, based on language differences.
The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture, is primarily identified by use of fluted spear points. Artifacts from this culture were first excavated in 1932 nea rClovis, New Mexico. The Clovis culture ranged over much of North America and also appeared in South America. The culture is identified by the distinctive Clovis point, a flaked flint spear-point with a notched flute, by which it was inserted into a shaft. Dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon dating methods. Recent reexaminations of Clovis materials using improved carbon-dating methods produced results of 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years B.P. (roughly 9100 to 8850 BCE).
Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America, with some arrayed around the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States of America andCanada, as well as adjacent areas to the West and Southwest. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories. Other tribes have stories that recount migrations across long tracts of land and a great river, believed to be the Mississippi.Genetic and linguistic data connect the indigenous people of this continent with ancient northeast Asians. Archeological and linguistic data has enabled scholars to discover some of the migrations within the Americas.
The Folsom Tradition was characterized by use of Folsom points as projectile tips, and activities known from kill sites, where slaughter and butchering of bisontook place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE
Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE, and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior. Linguists, anthropologists and archeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, into the interior of Canada, and south to the Great Plains and the American Southwest. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. They constructed large multi-family dwellings in their villages, which were used seasonally. People did not live there year round, but for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter. The Oshara Tradition people lived from 5500 BCE to 600 CE. They were part of the Southwestern Archaic Tradition centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southernColorado, and southeastern Utah.
Since the 1990s, archeologists have explored and dated eleven Middle Archaic sites in present-day Louisiana and Florida at which early cultures built complexes with multiple earthwork mounds; they were societies of hunter-gatherers rather than the settled agriculturalists believed necessary according to the theory of Neolithic Revolution to sustain such large villages over long periods. The prime example is Watson Brake in northern Louisiana, whose 11-mound complex is dated to 3500 BCE, making it the oldest, dated site in the Americas for such complex construction. It is nearly 2,000 years older than the Poverty Point site. Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until was abandoned about 2800 BCE, likely due to changing environmental conditions.
Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE to 700 BCE, during the Late Archaic period. Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from the major complex at Poverty Point, Louisiana across a 100-mile (160 km) range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.
Poverty Point is a 1 square mile (2.6 km2) complex of six major earthwork concentric rings, with additional platform mounds at the site. Artifacts show the people traded with other Native Americans located from Georgia to the Great Lakes region. This is one among numerous mound sites of complex indigenous cultures throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. They were one of several succeeding cultures often described as mound builders.
The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1,000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term "Woodland" was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites dated between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Hopewell tradition is the term used to describe common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BCE to 500 CE.
The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations, who were connected by a common network of trade routes, known as the Hopewell Exchange System. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell exchange system ran from the Southeastern United States into the southeastern Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Within this area, societies participated in a high degree of exchange; most activity was conducted along the waterways that served as their major transportation routes. The Hopewell exchange system traded materials from all over the United States.
Coles Creek culture is an archaeological culture from the Lower Mississippi valley in the southern present-day United States. The period marked a significant change in the cultural history of the area. Population increased dramatically. There is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity, especially by the end of the Coles Creek sequence. Although many of the classic traits of chiefdom societies were not yet manifested, by 1000 CE the formation of simpleelite polities had begun. Coles Creek sites are found in ArkansasLouisianaOklahoma,Mississippi, and Texas. It is considered ancestral to the Plaquemine culture.
Hohokam is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the present-dayAmerican Southwest. Living as simple farmers, they raised corn and beans. The early Hohokam founded a series of small villages along the middle Gila River. The communities were located near good arable land, with dry farming common in the earlier years of this period. Wells, usually less than 10 feet (3 m) deep, were dug for domestic water supplies by 300 CE to 500 CE. Early Hohokam homes were constructed of branches bent in a semi-circular fashion and covered with twigs and reeds. The last layer was heavily applied mud and other materials at hand.
The Mississippian culture, which extended throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys and built sites throughout the Southeast, created the largest earthworks in North America north of Mexico, most notably at Cahokia, on a tributary of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois. Its ten-story Monks Mound has a larger circumference than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The 6 square miles (16 km2) city complex was based on the culture's cosmology; it included more than 100 mounds, positioned to support their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, and built with knowledge of varying soil types.
It included a Woodhenge, whose sacred cedar poles were placed to mark the summer and winter solstices and fall and spring equinoxes. The society began building at this site about 950 CE, and reached its peak population in 1,250 CE of 20,000–30,000 people, which was not equalled by any city in the present-day United States until after 1800. Cahokia was a major regional chiefdom, with trade and tributary chiefdoms located in a range of areas from bordering the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. In the sixteenth century, the earliest Spanish explorers encountered Mississippian peoples in the interior of present-day North Carolina and the Southeast.
Sophisticated pre-Columbian sedentary societies evolved in North America. The Mississippian culture developed the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, the name which archeologists have given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifactsiconographyceremonies and mythology. The rise of the complex culture was based on the people's adoption of maize agriculture, development of greater population densities, and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE.
Contrary to popular belief, this development appears to have had no direct links to Mesoamerica. The peoples developed an independent, sophisticated and stratified society, after the cultivation of maize allowed the accumulation of crop surpluses to support a higher density of population. This in turn led to the development of specialized skills among some of the peoples. The Ceremonial Complex represents a major component of thereligion of the Mississippian peoples, and is one of the primary means by which their religion is understood.
The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House"), then based in present-day upstate and western New York, had a confederacy model from the mid-15th century. Some historians have suggested that it contributed to the political thinking during the development of the later United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, different from the strong, centralized European monarchies.
Leadership was restricted to a group of 50 sachem chiefs, each representing one clan within a tribe; the Oneidaand Mohawk people had nine seats each; the Onondagas held fourteen; the Cayuga had ten seats; and the Seneca had eight. Representation was not based on population numbers, as the Seneca tribe greatly outnumbered the others. When a sachem chief died, his successor was chosen by the senior woman of his tribe in consultation with other female members of the clan; property and hereditary leadership were passed matrilineally. Decisions were not made through voting but through consensus decision making, with each sachem chief holding theoreticalveto power. The Onondaga were the "firekeepers", responsible for raising topics to be discussed. They occupied one side of a three-sided fire (the Mohawk and Seneca sat on one side of the fire, the Oneida and Cayuga sat on the third side.)
Elizabeth Tooker, an anthropologist, has said that it was unlikely the US founding fathers were inspired by the confederacy, as it bears little resemblance to the system of governance adopted in the United States. For example, it is based on inherited rather than elected leadership, selected by female members of the tribes, consensus decision-making regardless of population size of the tribes, and a single group capable of bringing matters before the legislative body.
Long-distance trading did not prevent warfare and displacement among the indigenous peoples, and their oral histories tell of numerous migrations to the historic territories where Europeans encountered them. The Iroquois invaded and attacked tribes in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky and claimed the hunting grounds. Historians have placed these events as occurring as early as the 13th century, or in the 17th century Beaver Wars.
Through warfare, the Iroquois drove several tribes to migrate west to what became known as their historically traditional lands west of the Mississippi River. Tribes originating in the Ohio Valley who moved west included the OsageKawPonca and Omaha people. By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in their historical lands in present-day KansasNebraskaArkansas and Oklahoma. The Osage warred with Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their new historical territories.

[edit]European exploration and colonization

After 1492 European exploration and colonization of the Americas revolutionized how the Old and New Worldsperceived themselves. One of the first major contacts, in what would be called the American Deep South, occurred when the conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed in La Florida in April 1513. Ponce de León was later followed by other Spanish explorers, such as Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539. The subsequent European colonists in North America often rationalized their expansion of empire with the assumption that they were saving a barbaric, pagan world by spreading Christian civilization.
In the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the policy of Indian Reductions resulted in the forced conversions to Catholicism of the indigenous people in northern Nueva España. They had long-established spiritual and religious traditions and theological beliefs. What developed during the colonial years and since has been a syncretic Catholicism that absorbed and reflected indigenous beliefs; the religion changed in New Spain.

[edit]Impact on native populations

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Indians declined in the following ways: epidemic diseases brought from Europe; genocide and warfare at the hands of European explorers and colonists, as well as between tribes; displacement from their lands; internal warfareenslavement; and a high rate of intermarriage.  Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives because of their lack ofimmunity to new diseases brought from Europe.With the rapid declines of some populations and continuing rivalries among their nations, Native Americans sometimes re-organized to form new cultural groups, such as the Seminoles of Florida in the eighteenth century and the Mission Indians of Alta California.
Estimating the number of Native Americans living in what is today the United States of America before the arrival of the European explorers and settlers has been the subject of much debate. While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, estimates range from a low of 2.1 million (Ubelaker 1976) to 7 million people (Russell Thornton) to a high of 18 million (Dobyns 1983). A low estimate of around 1 million was first posited by the anthropologist James Mooney in the 1890s, by calculating population density of each culture area based on its carrying capacity. In 1965, the Americananthropologist Henry Dobyns published studies estimating the original population to have been 10 to 12 million. By 1983, he increased his estimates to 18 million.
He took into account the mortality rates caused by infectious diseases of European explorers and settlers, against which Native Americans had no immunity. Dobyns combined the known mortality rates of these diseases among native people with reliable population records of the 19th century, to calculate the probable size of the original populations. By 1800, the Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s.
Chicken pox and measlesendemic but rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans. Smallpox epidemics often immediately followed European exploration and sometimes destroyed entire village populations. While precise figures are difficult to determine, some historians estimate that at least 30% (and sometimes 50% to 70%) of some Native populations died after first contact due to Eurasian smallpox. One element of the Columbian exchange suggests explorers from theChristopher Columbus expedition contracted syphilis from indigenous peoples and carried it back to Europe, where it spread widely. Other researchers believe that the disease existed in Europe and Asia before Columbus and his men returned from exposure to indigenous peoples of the Americas, but that they brought back a more virulent form.
In 1618–1619, smallpox killed 90% of the Native Americans in the area of the Massachusetts Bay.Historians believe many Mohawk in present-day New York became infected after contact with children of Dutch traders inAlbany in 1634. The disease swept through Mohawk villages, reaching the Onondaga at Lake Ontario by 1636, and the lands of the western Iroquois by 1679, as it was carried by Mohawk and other Native Americans who traveled the trading routes.The high rate of fatalities caused breakdowns in Native American societies and disrupted generational exchange of culture.
Between 1754 and 1763, many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/Seven Years War. Those involved in the fur trade in the northern areas tended to ally with French forces against British colonial militias. Native Americans fought on both sides of the conflict. The greater number of tribes fought with the French in the hopes of checking British expansion. The British had made fewer allies, but it was joined by some tribes that wanted to prove assimilation and loyalty in support of treaties to preserve their territories. They were often disappointed when such treaties were later overturned. The tribes had their own purposes, using their alliances with the European powers to battle traditional Native enemies.
After European explorers reached the West Coast in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next 80 to 100 years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region.[58] Puget Sound area populations, once estimated as high as 37,000 people, were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century.The Spanish missions in California did not significantly affect the population of Native Americans, but the numbers of the latter decreased rapidly after California ceased to be a Spanish colony, especially during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th (see chart on the right).
Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians.By 1832, the federal government established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832). It was the first federal program created to address a health problem of Native Americans.

Native Americans - History


Native Americans the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct Native American tribes and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terms used to refer to Native Americans have been controversial. According to a 1995 U.S. Census Bureau set of home interviews, most of the respondents with an expressed preference refer to themselves as American Indians or Indians, and this term has been adopted by major newspapers and some academic groups; however, this term typically does not include Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleuts, Cup'ik/Yup'ik, and Inuit peoples.
Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas, and their importation of Africans as slaves, has led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Europeans created most of the early written historical record about Native Americans after the colonists' immigration to the Americas. Many Native Americans lived as hunter-gatherer societies and told their histories by oral traditions. In many groups, women carried out sophisticated cultivation of numerous varieties of staple crops: maize, beans and squash. The indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the agrarian, proto-industrial, mostly Christian immigrants from western Eurasia. Many Native cultures were matrilineal; the people occupied lands for use of the entire community, for hunting or agriculture. Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different.
The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations of each culture through the centuries, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence and social disruption. The Native Americans suffered high fatalities from the contact with infectious Eurasian diseases, to which they had no acquired immunity. Epidemics after European contact caused the greatest loss of life for indigenous populations. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, ranging from 1 million to 18 million.
After the colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States of America, President George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for assimilation as U.S. citizens. Assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw, or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. During the 19th century, the ideology of manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations to the west after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate Native Americans from their homelands within established states to lands west of the Mississippi River, accommodating European-American expansion.
The first European Americans to encounter the western interior tribes were generally fur traders and trappers. There were also Jesuit missionaries active in the Northern Tier. As United States expansion reached into the American West, settler and miner migrants came into increasing conflict with the Great Basin, Great Plains, and other Western tribes. These were complex nomadic cultures based on horse culture and seasonal bison hunting. They carried out strong resistance to United States incursions in the decades after the American Civil War, in a series of Indian Wars, which were frequent up until the 1890s, but continued into the 20th century. The transcontinental railroad brought more non-Natives into tribal land in the west. Over time, the U.S. forced a series of treaties and land cessions by the tribes, and established reservations for them in many western states. U.S. agents encouraged Native Americans to adopt European-style farming and similar pursuits, but European-American agricultural technology of the time was inadequate for often dry reservation lands. In 1924, Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens were granted citizenship by Congress.
Contemporary Native Americans have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands with sovereignty and treaty rights. Since the late 1960s, Native American activism has led to the building of cultural infrastructure and wider recognition: they have founded independent newspapers and online media; FNX, the first Native American television channel (2011), community schools,tribal colleges, and tribal museums and language programs; Native American studies programs in major universities; and national and state museums. Native American and Alaskan Native authors have been increasingly published; they work as academics, policymakers, doctors, and in a wide variety of occupations. Cultural activism has led to an expansion of efforts to teach and preserve indigenous languages for younger generations. Their societies and cultures flourish within a larger population of descendants of immigrants (both voluntary and involuntary): African, Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and other peoples.

Native Americans - Brief History

The first evidence showing indigenous people to inhabit North America indicates that they migrated there from Siberia over 11,000 years ago. More than likely, they crossed the Bering Land Bridge, which was in existence during the Ice Age. After that time period, several large waves of migration took place, including many groups of people from Asia and South America.
Generally, the Native Americans lived in peace and prosper until around the 15th century when Europeans first arrived on the shores of North America. At that time, horses were brought over, which began to spread disease among the natives. Since they had no immunity to these strange diseases, thousands began to die from things such as measles and chicken pox. In addition, the Europeans began to take over the land and set up farms and homes there.
While at one point in time, Native Americans were a very populous group of people, today they only account for 1.4 percent of the United States population. Most of those who claim to be Native American live on designated Indian reservations. The symbol of Native Americans is used in many national sports teams as a mascot. This has been a large center of controversy over the last few decades. It has been noted that the suicide rate among Native Americans is the highest in the country. Many Native Americans continue to take pride in their ancestral traditions, still practicing the music, art, and ceremonies that took place many years ago. In 2004, a museum was opened in Washington, D.C. paying tribute to their heritage. The museum is called the National Museum of the American Indian, and is part of the Smithsonian family of museums. The museum contains over 800,000 objects and artifacts and over 125,000 images representing the life and culture of Native Americans.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

A really interesting site about semiotics


© Werner Hammerstingl, 2000 (last update 2011)

Semiotics or Semiology as the French prefer to call it is a study of signs. It deals with all processes of information interchange as far as signs are involved. Human beings talk, write, sing, smell and gesture. We erect signs or barriers to communicate messages to other people. We constantly produce and interpret signs and codes. But even if no-one intends to communicate anything, sign processes are continuously taking place: A doctor interprets the symptoms of a disease, a dog follows a trail, a thief triggers an alarm.

Semiotics explores all such processes with regard to common structures. Its scope reaches far beyond the area of cultural phenomena and involves the interaction of animals, the activity of orientation and perception of all living things, the stimulus and response processes of animals and plants and even the metabolism of organisms and information processes by machines. The scientific disciplines concerned with different aspects of culture(s) (linguistics, literary science, musicology, art history, archeology,history, sociology, political science, religious studies etc.) and nature (chemistry, biology, physics etc.) are integrated in semiotics by exploring the sign character of the natural and cultural phenomena examined.

It describes the various sign phenomena (Descriptive Semiotics), systematizes them in theories and models (Theoretic Semiotics), and attempts to apply this knowledge in helping to find solutions to problems in science, society, commerce, and in everyday life (Applied Semiotics).
Saussure might be termed the founder of semiotics, the discipline has become less and less Saussurean in recent years (i.e. less structuralist). 

Semiosis (The production of meaning) is a term borrowed from Charles Sanders Peirce and expanded by Umberto Eco to mean a process by which a culture produces signs and/or attributes meanings to signs. For Eco the production of meaning (Semiosis ) is a social activity. This allows for subjective factors to intrude in each individual act of Semiosis. 

Communication theory

It might be said that semiotics belongs under the greater umbrella of Communication theory. Some of the important work in this field dates back more than half a century such as the work by Shannon and Weaver. 

Shannon and Weaver's "linear model"of 1949 

According to these researchers who studied why people turn to a particular medium in a large scale audience survey , the better educated tended to turn to print media whereas the less educated tended to use more electronic media. The audience tended to agree that each medium was most similar to it's neighbours (on this model)

The updated model which includes the internet in what the writer considers the appropriate position.


A sign stands for something to the idea which it produces or modifies....That for which it stands is called its object, that which it conveys, its meaning; and the idea which it gives rise, its interpretant....[the sign creates in the mind] an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. This sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea which I have sometimes called the ground of that representation."

C. S. Peirce, quoted in Umberto Eco (1979) The Role of the Reader 7.2.

A semiotic model: 

The Index/Indexical is a mode in which the signifier is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified. This link can be inferred or observed (e.g. smoke, thermometer, clock, spirit-level, foot or fingerprint, knock on door, pulse rate, sunburn, pain etc).

Peirce makes an even finer distinction in this model which allows for differentiation between:

  • icon Meaning based on similarity of appearance
  • index Meaning based on cause and effect relationships
  • Symbol
    meaning based on convention

  • Signifier

    The vehicle which conveys the signified. (In sausurean semiotics i.e. linguistics, it would be the sound image). Saussure for example demonstrated that whilst the signifier and signified together constitute a sign, the relationship between signifier and signified is rather arbitary. For instance: in a particular configuration, the letters "E", "D" and "R" will form the sequence "R", "E", "D". RED denotes a certain colour, but neither the letters individually nor their formal combination into a word have anything to do with redness.

    This insight has had a powerful imoact on "postmodern thought" since all meaning is supposedly founded on convention, it is subject of critique on the basis of guilt by association. For example: the most widely accepted meaning of a disputed term could be dependent on the supression of its use amongst a marginal group.


    The idea or meaning expressed by a particular signifier


    The human body is the main transmitter of presentational codes (Fiske, 1990, p.68 listing Argyle, 1972). A list of the following 10 codes suggests the sorts of meaning they can convey:

    1. Bodily contact
    Whom we touch, where and when we touch communicates a great deal about relationships. This code and the next appear to have the greatest degree of cultural variations. the British are the least "touchy" race.
    2. Proximity (proxemics)
    Physical distances are highly codified and vary between social class and nationality of the participants. Generally less than one meter is "intimate" one to 3 meters personal and beyond that, semi-public.
    3. Orientation
    How we angle our bodies to others is another way of signalling a message. Facing another person tends to signify either intimacy aor agressiveness. Angular positions up to 90 degrees indicates co-operative attitude.
    4. Appearance
    a Aspects under voluntary control: Includes, hair, clothes, skin, body and adournment including make up.
    b Aspects not under voluntary control : Hieght, weight etc. 
    5. Head nods
    Mainly involved in interaction management such as turn-taking in conversation. One nod may be a silent parmission for the speaker to continue. A serious of rapid nods may be a pre-emptive gesture indicating the wish to speak or break into the conversation of others.
    6. Facial expression
    Consists of a range of sub-codes of eye-brow position, eye shape, mouth shape, nostril size and so on. These in combination determine the expression of the face and what it's "grammar" signifies. Facial expression is the most cross-culturally stable of all presentational codes.
    7. Gestures (Kinescics)
    While hand and arm are the most efficiant transmitters of kinesic information, the feet and head position arte also important.
    8. Posture
    The way we sit stand etc can communicate a limited but interesting range of meanings. Often they signify interpersomnal attitudes such as friendlyness, hostility, flirtatiousness, superiority etc.
    Posture can also indicate if we're relaxed or tense. The posture often gives away more than the face as it seems less consciouly controlled.
    9. Eye movement and eye contact
    When, how often and for how long we meet other peoples eyes is a way of sending very important messages about relationships. Indicating for example how afiliative or dominant we wish the relationship to be. Usually the making of eye contact at the beginning of a statement indicated a desire to dominate the listener but eye contact at the end of a statement suggests a more affiliative relationship, a desire for feedback.
    10. Non verbal aspects of speech.
    a. Prosodic codes affect the meaning of words used. Pitch and stress are the main codes here. How was that? can be made int a statement, a question, or an exclamation of disbelief depending on the pitch of the voice.
    b. Paralinguistic codes communicate information about the speaker. Tone, volume, accent,speech errors and speed of speach communicat something about the speakers emotional state, their personality, educational background, class and social status, perception of the listener and so on.

    A brief history of semiotics


    Werner Hammerstingl ©2000 

    Semiotics, translated as the science of signification, is often said to derive from two sources: 

    •  the American pragmatist ( theory of meaning which identifies the content of a proposition with the experienciable difference between it being true or false) philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914),
    • and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). (Saussure's  "Course in general linguistics" was post-humously published in Paris, 1916 by his ex students) and first appeared in English in N.Y.1959 (translated by W. Baskin from the French).
    Saussure concept of language was as a system of mutually defining entities.
    He distinguished between diachronic and synchronic linguistics. Diachronic linguistics is the study of language change (also "historical linguistics" i.e. Shorter Oxford is based on on historic principles). Synchronic linguistis studies the language used at any given point in time.

    This can then be divided further into general linguistics, the attempt to establish general principles for the study of all langages and the determination of characteristics of human language as a phenomenon. and, when concentrating on the facts of a particular language system, descriptive linguistics. Saussure also made a distinction betweeen contrastive linguistics which is when the focus is on the differences between languages, especially in a language teaching context. The primary purpose of Comparative linguistics, (the last category) is to identify the common characteristics of different languages or language families.

    The area of linguistics was invigorated in the USA during the 60's.

    Noam Chomsky (1928-) who is Professor of Modern Languages and linguistics at MIT popularised linguistics with his book " Syntactic structures" which was published in 1957.
    He outlined and justified a generative conception of language , in other words the relationship between language and the human mind, especially the philosophical and psychological implications.

    Marshall McLuhan
    presents the notion of the "medium is the message" in his book "Understanding Media"(1964)

    Roland Barthes (1915-), A  Professor at the College de France in Paris published "Elements in Semiology" in 1964 . In 1977, Stephen Heath, a lecturer at Cambridge translated and combined a series of Roland Barthes essays into a book called "Image, Music, Text" which is now a core text  for students in the discipline of semiotics.

    Jean Baudrillard published "Simulations" in 1983

    Umberto Eco (1932-)  He is a professor of semiotics, the study of communication through signs and symbols, at the University of Bologna, a philiosopher, a historian, literary critic, and an aesthetician.
    Published 'Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language'.1984
    The subjects of his scholarly investigations range from St. Thomas Aquinas, to James Joyce, to Superman. He lives in Milan. It is, in particular, the latter tradition which has gone through a rich development in our century, beginning in Russia and in Czechoslovakia during the first decades, then encountering a new vigour in France and Italy in the fifties and the sixties, and finally diffusing over the whole world, notably to Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, and Spain, in Europe, and to USA and Latin America. With the single exception of Denmark, the Nordic countries have been newcomers to this game. At present, in the best work, the philosophical rigour of Peirce has been intimately united to the empirical approach found in Saussure.

    Above all, semiotics is a peculiar point of view: a perspective which consists in asking ourselves how things become carriers of meaning. Thus, the task of semiotics involves the determination of criteria which may help separate different sign types and other kinds of signification. Well-known instances of such typologies are Peirces trichotonomy icon/index/symbol and the opposition between the analogue and the digital. Both these distinctions turns out to be insufficient, if not inadequate, when they are confronted with actually existing system of signification.

    One reasons for this is that one and the same sign instance may play several different parts at the same time: a picture may represent something, express something, refer to its own material character, allude to something, be a metaphor or constitue some other type of indirect sign for something. Since semiotics is interested in finding general rules and regularities, it tries
    to describe these phenomena as generic functions in some kind of system. 
    But it must be admitted that these generic functions are modified by the contexts in which they appear. 

    Therefore, semiotics is not only called upon to describe similarities and dissimilarities between different ways of conveying signification, but equally the different ways in which several 
    system of signification collaborate at the transmission of meaning (spoken and written language, gestures and facial expression during a chat or as part of a theatre representation or a film; that which may be conveyed by new media such as the computer, etc.). In contrast to the abstract approach characterising earlier semiotics, semiotics of culture looks at similarities
    and convergences between different systems of signification in historically
    existing cultures.
    Semiotics of culture, initiated by the Tartu school in the early seventies, mostly with a view of interpreting Russian history, and which was then developed by mostly German and North American semioticians. Our aim, however, is to apply this point of view to the differences between pre-modern and modern forms of communication in the widest sense of the term, and to their modification in recent times. We are particularly interested in the spatial expression of these forms of communication, for instance the shape of the city. Another focus of our interest is the influence of new media, such as television and computers, and the increasing importance of some old sign types, such as pictures. Another line of reasoning which we are pursuing has to do with the position of the art sphere within culture, as a specific, but ever-changing, part of the wider domain of picture production. We have also taken an ever more acute interest in the difficulties of contact between Swedish culture and other cultures, those outside its domain of spatial extension, naturally, but also those which nowadayes occupy the same space, that is the immigrant

       * See "The multimediation of the lifeworld"
       * "In search of Swedish Nature. Beyond the Threshold of the People's
       * "The Culture of Modernism"
       * A schematic overview of the problems addressed by cultural semiotics

    This interest has developed from an earlier preoccupation with the more
    formal differences between the potentialities of verbal language and
    pictures for conveying information. This research interest in now pursued,
    partly in the sense of a revision of visual rhetoric, and also as a study of
    the different potentialities of pictorial and verbal vehicles for conveying
    specific types of information such as, most notably, narrativity.