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Semiotics and cognitive science

 

This growth and diversification of the field of writing research parallels similar tendencies in the broader and more general fields of semiotic and cognitive studies over the last thirty years or so. Semioticians have traditionally concentrated their energies on examining processes of meaning-making through the exchange and interpretation of signs – an interdisciplinary and generic term which today in practice is generally taken to mean various forms of texts and/ or utterances, construed as situated acts of communication – as they function in a broad range of socio-cultural contexts. Cognitive scientists, on the other hand, have tended to concern themselves with attempting to understand, through structured empirical forms of research, the relationship between observable, quantifiable aspects of cognition processes – which in practice means different forms of behaviour – and their biological and neuro-physiological correlates. In both the above-mentioned fields, issues relating to aspects of multimodality in communication have been brought more and more to the fore in recent years.

 

Although sometimes seeming to differ quite radically in their basic epistemologies and methodological approaches, and thus still considered by some scholars and scientists as separate, and even incommensurable, fields of inquiry, there is something fundamental which both these domains of research share. This common ground is a deep and passionate belief in the necessity and productivity of transdisciplinary forms of communication, cooperation and understanding in scientific research. As time goes on, it is becoming increasingly clear – not least thanks to the continuing efforts of the San Marino Centre in promoting constructive forms of dialogue between semioticians and cognitive scientists – that vast domains of overlap and common interest do indeed exist across the boundaries of these two domains. This growing sense of scientific fellowship and community in the general area of semiotic and cognitive studies is beginning to create and exciting sense of continuity across the two domains, traversing and transgressing any form of postulated ‘divide’ between them. Those differences in perspective and methodology that do exist merely make for lively and constructive dialogue and healthy controversy. As Marcello Dascal has repeatedly reminded us, truly excellent science cannot develop and spread without healthy forms of controversy, and the discourse dynamic in the zone of proximal development between cognitive and semiotically oriented forms of inquiry provides just such an area of growth.

 

As its name implies, the International Centre for Semiotic and Cognitive Studies seeks to promote constructive forms of synergy in the zone of proximal development between these two highly complex fields. The Semiotics of Writing gave people a chance to meet, present, compare and critically discuss their respective ideas, perspectives and approaches. From this small beginning, new forms of interdisciplinary cooperation and understanding have hopefully already begun to grow.

 

 


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