Augustine’s (354-430 AD) semiotics, – as presented in De dialectica, De magistro, De doctrina christiana, De trinitate – axed on the general concept of the sign (be it natural, or conventional linguistic) emphasizes the practical usage of signs: human communication. The main concepts of his model:
- Signs signify signified objects. They can be natural and conventional signs.
- Conventional signs can be written, spoken words and other conventional signs.
- Signs on the other hand relate to mental worlds and thoughts existing in the human soul.
- Conventianal signs are used as means for communication by the sender and reciever souls.
The following OntoUML diagram presents Augtine’s model of language and signification:
|Sign||A Sign (signum) is: “something that shows itself to the senses and something other than itself to the mind”. |
An essential attribute of Signs is the sense (see [2.6.1]) with which a human can percept them.
|generalizes NaturalSign and ConventionalSign; signify SignifiedObjectsand other Signs|
|SignifiedObject||The Object, Thing signified by the Sign.|
|NaturalSign||“Natural signs are those which, apart from any intention or desire of using them as signs, do yet lead to the knowledge of something else – as, for example, smoke when it indicates fire, the footprint of an animal passing by.”||subkind of Sign|
|“Conventional signs, …, are those which living beings mutually exchange in order to show, as well as they can, the feelings of their minds, or their perceptions, or their thoughts.”|
Augustine sustains, that information transmitted with signs by a trustworthy Teacher (like textual information) is not enough for a true understanding (see also [2.6.1]).
|subkind of Sign|
|SpokenWord||Spoken word: “sign of something, which can be understood by the hearer when pronounced by the speaker.”||subkind of ConvetionalSign|
|WrittenWord||“Writing (litterae) [written word], introduced by man in order to impart permanency to spoken language, is just a secondary system of signs, consisting of ‘signs of words’ (signa verborum) rather than of words itself.”||subkind of ConvetionalSign; signifies SpokenWord|
|Some signs “relate to the sense of sight, some to that of hearing, a very few to the other [conventional signs to other] senses”||subkind of ConvetionalSign|
|Convention||Convention – in a given language – makes the relation between the Conventional Sign and the Signified Object.||relates ConventionalSign and SignifiedObject|
|Mental-InteriorWord||“It is … the mental (verbum mentis) or interior word (verbum interius), i.e., the mental concept, that is considered as word in its most proper sense, whereas the spoken word appears as a mere sign or voice of the word.”||understands Sign; shared part of Thought|
|Thought||“Thoughts (cogitationes) are performed in mental words”|
|Communication||“spoken word signifies a concept that we have formed within our mind and communicates it to others”||relates SenderSoul with RecieverSoul; uses Conventional|
|HumanSoul||Human soul||thinks Thought; percepts NaturalSign|
|SenderSoul||Sender soul is the person who speaks, writes, sends other sign. The term Sender was not used by Augustine, he used the more particular speaker, writer.||role of HumanSoul; listens, reads ConventionalSign|
|ReceiverSoul||Receiver soul is the person who listens, reads, receives other sign. The term Receiver was not used by Augustine, he used the more particular listener, reader.||role of HumanSoul; speaks, writes ConventionalSign|
- All citations from: Meier-Oeser, Stephan, “Medieval Semiotics“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
- Mendelson, Michael, “Saint Augustine“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
First published: 30/5/2019
Updated: 14/9/2021, added communication