The act of interpretation. A view form semiotics

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In this essay, an attempt is made to derive a model of interpretation from the conception of the sign developed in semiotics. The kind of interpretation discussed here involves the intervention of a interpreting subject between the sender and the receiver of a primary act of communication; this is different from interpretation in the sense of a second act of communication, taking its point of departure from the first, as is the case of theatrical and musical interpretation, but also in the case of the critic adapting the work for the benefit of contemporary society or some particular theory. The dominant “pragmatic” approaches, as exemplified by speech act theory and the Bakhtin circle, tend to reduce meaning to different un-repeatable events, such as context and intentions. According to a truly semiotic conception, interpretation is the result of rules and other regularities: context can be shown to consist of other systems of signification, and intentions must be mediated by standardised signs. This is demonstrated, also against leading semiotic authorities such as Eco and Posner, whose communication model is pragmatically inspired. Most of the time, intentions are part of the content of the sign, not a requisite for its occurrence. Indirect speech acts and non-serious speech depend on regularities, though not on the level of grammar. In the case of some signs, meaning may indeed by identical to intentions or causes, but in most cases, these are only secondary types of interpretation, as are functions, coherence, and values. In art, and in some other cases, new meaning may be produced by invoking contradictory standards of interpretation


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • drawing, semiotics, photography, interpretation, speech acts, code, comunity, context, intentions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-99
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Publication categoryResearch

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