Thursday, July 26, 2007


I keep seeing examples of what I think of as "semiotic type raising", where a sign gets promoted up the "Peirce Hierarchy" of index -> icon -> symbol. The first time I noticed this was a few years ago, when I saw people switching from an iconic use of smileys to a symbolic one: "happy" is conveyed by :^), very happy is :^D, then very happy becomes :^))) -- not a happy guy with a beard, as I first thought, but instead, the right parens are used as a counting device instead of an icon. Now my parents have a new ceramic-top stove, where the heating elements don't glow when they get hot, as you would expect with a gas or electric stove. So, the designers indicate that the stove is heating up by turning on a glowing orange light around the heating element. But you want to know when it's reached the temperature you dialed, so the light goes off when it reaches that level. So it's like a half-index, half-icon. From listening to Simon Kirby and Bruno Galantucci talk about their experiments on evolving communication systems with pairs of human subjects, I get the feeling that this kind of "raising" may be a pervasive phenomenon, something that emerges when the constraints change (as with the stove). Mark Steedman has said similar things about the relationship between type raising and Gibsonian affordances.

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