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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 35, Issue 1/2, 2019

Cognitive Semiotics

Duygu Uygun Tunç
Pages 117-154

Transformative Communication as Semiotic Scaffolding of Cognitive Development

The paper examines the role of earliest communicative interactions in the development of social-cognitive functions through a communication-theoretical interpretation of Hoffmeyer’s notion “semiotic scaffolding”. Drawing on Bateson’s notion of metacommunication and Vygotskian perspectives on cognitive-semiotic development, it argues that the primary semiotic achievement of human evolution and development is the differentiation of meaning into inter-referential layers that are communicatively established, which in turn provides an ecological foundation for multilevel and multimodal semiosis. Ontogenetically regarded, differentiation of levels of communication is argued to be an intersubjectively achieved process of semiotic scaffolding. Semiotic scaffolds are conceived as hierarchically organized, temporary or enduring semiotic controls on action, which can be formed in phylogeny or ontogeny. The timescale in which semiotic scaffolds change narrows down from phylogenic history to lived time to the extent that development is mediated by culture. The increasing plasticity of semiotic scaffolds brings about a novel, transformative mode of communication that is partly efficacious on phylogenetic scaffolding and responsible for the emergence of higher order scaffolds within ontogenetic time. Transformative communication is the process whereby higher-order semiotic scaffolds of (inter)action are intersubjectively formed by effectuating a top-down social modification on the psycho-somatic level of scaffolding. Its phylogenetically prior and more pervasive correlative, coordinative communication, is the mode in which stably scaffolded semiotic activities of individuals are coordinated. This argument is concretized through examining some landmark cognitive-semiotic activities such as imitation, cooperative role-taking and symbolic play, interpreted as communicative interactions with particular focus on their role in layering sign-processes. Through these interactions the child develops skills for differential attention to sign-object-interpretant and coordination of alternative interpretants.

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