Plenary Speakers, SSA 43rd Annual Conference

v2zVincent Colapietro

Sebeok Fellow Award Lecture: The Music of Meaning: Gestures, Traces, and Media


Just as theories of signs have been deployed to elucidate the nature of music, music might provide us with a source for illuminating the meaning of meaning. Indeed, theorists, such as Hanslick, Langer, Scruton, Lidov, and Hatten, have crafted their understanding of meaning with an ear to the phenomena of music. But we might make greater use of these phenomena. In use, signs, including words, mean the way music organizes temporal continuainto distinct, yet integrated, phases of an ongoing elaboration. I begin by focusing on gestures, but trace them to what Mead calls “the conversation of gestures.” In doing so, I stress the importance of both instrumentally mediated gestures and their directly perceptible traces. Moreover, I consider the sensuous media in which the traces of our gestures are embodied. By such considerations, I am led to the foreground of the temporality of meaning and the continual occasions for retroactive resignification.

Biographic Note

Vincent Colapietro is Liberal Arts Research Professor Emeritus at Penn State and Adjunct Professor of Humanities at the University of Rhode Island. One of his main areas of historical research is classical American pragmatism, with special emphasis on Peirce. While he has written on a wide range of topics (from music to cinema, from psychoanalysis to deconstruction, and from politics to metaethics), he is primarily a scholar of pragmatism and semiotics. He has served as president of the Charles S. Peirce Society, the Semiotic Society of America, and the Metaphysical Society of America. His writings have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Bulgarian, and Russian.


headshot2a-copy1Deborah Eicher-Catt

Presidential Address: The Resilience of Enchantment in the Semiotic Resonance of Voice


I address concerns that nowadays we would rather “text than talk” to one another.  How does this cultural, semiotic trend impact the quality of our relations and our healthy sense of self? I suggest that even our partial retreat from the immediate sounding of being to the other through the medium of voice (and its reflexive enactment of listening) represents a threat to our well-being. The source of the resilience of the self isthe voice of the other. My reading of C.S. Peirce, Don Ihde, and Walter Ong leads me to argue that our embodied resilience lies in a renewed focus on the enchanting phenomenological ground of voice and the significance the sound of our immediate voices have for one another. My discussion seeks to remind us that it is within these often-fleeting moments of voicedinteractions that we become resilient—fully embodied semiotic beings of communicative action.

Biographic Note

Deborah Eicher-Catt is Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at Pennsylvania State University-York. Using a Communicological lens, her research focuses on self and other relationships.  She is Fellow and Founding Member of the International Communicology Institute, past Chair of the Philosophy of Communication Division for the National Communication Association, and co-editor (with Isaac E. Catt) of Communicology: The New Science of Embodied Discourse (2010). She is the author of numerous publications, which appear in such journals as: Listening: Journal of Communication Ethics, Religion, and Culture; Language and Dialogue; The American Journal of Semiotics; Semiotica; The Review of Communication; and Language and Semiotic Studies.


DSC_0533enh2Farouk Y. Seif

The Audacity of Design and the Resilience of Signs


We seem to rely onabsoluteness falling into the temptation of certaintyin fear of abandoning obsolescence. Such fear has to do with panic at losing our sanity if we let go of the obsolete and the familiar. Design always deals with uncertainty and ambiguity, and signs require resilience that is far greater than merely copingwiththe rapidly changing world.Signs can never be understood in the absolute, and sign relations are formed teleologically. The audacity of design and the resilience of signs necessitate that we be comfortable navigating through space-time-free-reality, which liberates us from the nostalgic past, the gravity of the present, and the fear associated with the uncertainties of the future. Itis through the courage to design and the resilience of signs that we can traverse the boundary between reality and imagination, transforming things through cognitively playing with objects in the mind to actualize possibilities.

Biographic Note

Farouk Y. Seif is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Change, Antioch University Seattle. He is the Vice-President of the SSA, a registered architect, an artist, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. His main interests are Design and Semiotics for Social and Cultural Change, Paradoxes, and Transmodernity. He has taught design for social innovation and contributed to semiotic congresses since 1999. He has taught in universities and lectured at conferences in USA and abroad. He was the recipient of the 2010 Fulbright Specialists Program at University of Sofia, Bulgaria. He is the author of more than 50 articles and dozens of book chapters.


Michael Shapiro photo.jpgMichael Shapiro

Language as Semiosis: A Neo-Structuralist Perspective in the Light of Pragmaticism


Recalling the singular appearance of the word “hermeneutic” in the title of any article published over the multi-year history of the journal Language, and relying anew on Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticism and his apothegm, “My language is the sum total of myself,” a program for reorienting linguistics in the twenty-first century is sketched, prompted by the conviction that the prevailing conception of language as rule-governed behavior tout court has driven linguistics into barren byways, which are powerless to Explain Speech as it is Manifested in Nature. This sterility can be overcome by postulating as a fundamental principle the idea that the locus of linguistic reality is the Act, the Creative Moment of Speech––a moment made possible by the existing structure of language with its general rules, but which transforms that structure, so that linguistic structure is itself always in flux, always being modified by acts of speech.

Biographic Note

Michael Shapiro earned degrees in Slavic Languages and Literatures at UCLA (B.A. ‘61) and Harvard (M.A. ‘62; Ph.D. ‘65). Besides Brown and Columbia, he has taught at UCLA, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Green Mountain College, in a career that now spans over half a century. He is the co-author, with his late wife, the medievalist and Renaissance scholar Marianne Shapiro, of Figuration in Verbal Art (1988) and The Sense of Form in Literature and Language (2nded., 2009). A much-expanded second edition of his most recent book, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage, was published in 2017 by Springer.

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About Farouk Seif

Professor Emeritus, Antioch University Seattle, Washington, a registered architect, an artist, a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute, and the former Executive Director of the Semiotic Society of America.