Category Archives: Week 6

Object-Oriented Programming as a Symbolic Expression

Object-oriented programming is a kind of programming (programming paradigm) that works based on “objects” (not directly as how Pierce defines it). Adopting pierce’s semiotic model, the source code or the instructions given by the programmer to the computer would be Pierce’s “sign or representeman”. The “intepretante” is the compiler converting the signs produced in a particular programming language such as Python or Java, into “executable” binary language, which are other signs that the computer comprehends. The “objects” that these other signs allude to are other physical memory locations on the circuit board or data sets. And the “interface” corresponds to the functions and procedures the programmer chooses to interact with a particular data set.

Take simple linear regression algorithm:

y = mx + c

x, y and m respectively are variables, so we cognitively create a provision for the arbitrariness of the objects. For c (constant) however we are capable of imagining a symbolic boundary that we know as a certainty is unchangeable, even if we don’t yet know what its real value is. A semiotically noteworthy feature of “object-oriented programming” is that only the programmer and the machine know the Peirce objects that they are talking about and build on that knowledge.


  1. Primary Texts On Signs and Symbolic Thought, With Transcriptions of Unpublished Papers from Peirce’s Manuscripts, Edited by Martin Irvine

Power of Idioms

Idioms are frequently used in both languages I know a little of — Chinese and English. In English, people would say “break a leg” to a drama actor who is about to step on the stage, and describe the weather using the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, which two examples would be inexplicable to a foreigner at his first sight. In Chinese, idioms fall into different types, of which the most common one is made up of phrases with four Characters. In both languages, idioms have deep root in cultural environment from which they were born. Foreigners cannot understand idioms or using the local language “idiomatically” because they are not familiar with the culture.

Idioms are powerful because they can go beyond the literal or original meaning, and introduce another layer of figurative connotation, which is also generally agreed upon like a language itself. People are so used of idioms that one even has to point it out when he uses an idiom literally. For example, if I were rowing a boat with a friend in Potomac River, I would say to him, “Now we are literally in the same boat.”

Peirce would probably categorize idioms under the term “argument”, for the ground apprehended by interpretants are symbolic, which means in a semiotic sense that the interpretation of a idiom (like “in the same boat”) as a certain meaning (in the same situation) is conventional, shared and learned. Some might argue that the literal meaning of “in the same boat” bear some resemblance to its figurative meaning, therefore it is iconic. However, according to this reasoning, thousands of other phrases whether once uttered by human or not can replace the phrase, say, “on the same tree”. So it is conventions and shared knowledge of a phrase’s figurative meaning make it an idiom. But that doesn’t mean that idioms contains no iconic or indexical elements. I deem the figurative meaning (interpretant) of an idiom symbolic because the convention play a more important role in its forming, using and spreading.

Another interesting thing I found out is that there is a Chinese idiom have  the same meaning as “in the same boat”, which translated into English is “two grasshoppers on the same string.” As we can see, two idioms that have the same meaning from two language use entirely different ways of expression, which is another proof that the pairing between an idiom and its figurative meaning is arbitrary and conventional. Moreover, the shared meaning reveals that language is not essential for a thought or an idea, which is probably another idea Peirce would agree with.


How a logo works as a symbol

We are no strangers to commercial logos. Or should I say, we can’t avoid them even if we want to. Logos are everywhere, using its own characteristics to help brand lure customers (well, not directly, but that’s what their final purpose lie). We can easily recognize one logo as a symbol, for it is a conventional agreement embedded by the brand to the memories of all viewers. We see it frequently enough to remember it, as if we “learn” it. Once our brain linked the image with a brand name or a kind of product, and we no longer take it as some random color lump, the symbolic work has been done.

Being a symbol, a logo is intersubjective. Even though a green-white two-tailed siren can easily refer to Starbucks, some people will interpret this physical vehicle into the concept of coffee instantly, while I directly think of the smelt and noise in the shop before I reach the word Starbucks.

When associated with Peircian decomposition of symbol class, I find logos can work as symbols with grounds of icon, index and symbol, separately or in combinations. Take Target’s logo for example, the target alike circle colored in red and white is apprehend as an icon, referring to the concept of a shooting target due to viewer’s past experience. And the shooting target is linked to the brand target due to the viewer’s present experience and future hoherent, which giving it an indexical and symbolic feature. Then with the letter downside (I sometimes assume the word in logos can give the symbol phonemic features), the whole logo works as a symbolic sign which has icon to “express the information”, and index to “indicate the object to which this information pertains”. As “part of a shared cultural encyclopedia”, few US modern citizens will see the white and red circle and think that means merely shooting target rather than supermarket chains. However, put the identical circle in rural mountain villages, references can be totally different, since it’s not in their culture. The circle might works only in iconic ways.

One kind of logos interest me most, which itself seems to bring out nothing else than font deformation. Like Google, like Sony, like Lenovo, like H&M, like Zara, like Calvin Klein… They are just letters put together. Logos like these make them very much like sinsign (token), “an accidents of existence makes it a sign”, a replica. However, it is not. The logo of Google is not six letters combined using a specific font and specific colors. From my point of view, it ceased to be a “word” but an “image” when being showed like this. By which I mean, when I write down “google” with this identical feature, I’m not writing. I’m drawing. All that came from the conventional meaning we endowed on this combination.

Logo can be very concise and complex at the same time. Even as simple as Google, it’s not easy to be identical. Recently a group conducted a test on people’s recollection of famous brands’ logo. The result turned out to be very funny to some extends. As the result shows, people actually can’t recall the minutia of even the simplest logo. (full test result and larger pictures showed in a weibo website:


When I looked at these false drawings, I find out that people seems to remember the iconic, index and symbolic feature of the logo in the same degree. In my previous understanding, the iconic apprehension seems to help viewers remember the most part of the logo. However, it shows that people will just remember the most conspicuous part of that, no matter it is a symbol or icon. In fact, the highest rate of accuracy seems to be the color of the logo. Does it show that when a new brand starts to design a logo and want to improve the first recall rate of their brand, they only have to choose the right color? This is a very interesting thought to me and I wish to do more research on that.

Semiotic Analysis in Literature


In ancient Chinese poetry, there’s one literary technique called “Yong Dian“(用典). By using the methods, poets write down in poem a word or a very short phrase, which represents a story, an event, or an anecdote having been — or should be — very well-known among all readers. The words or short phrases can be a name, a place, a “Nian Hao” (年号, a phrase decided by each emperor to label the period of his reign), or a short combination of Proper nouns and verbs. These words or combinations, called “Dian Gu”(典故), can represent either something did happen in history, or fiction ones created by former writers, or just a very personal moment or concept recorded by famous previous poets in their works.

This technique was so commonly used in ancient Chinese poetry. It saves poets a long passage to express some complicated meanings or emotions, thus expanding the range of content a piece of poem can cover and convey. For example, a very early, famous piece of Chinese poetry talks about how the author feels so sad when seeing that the site used to be a gorgeous palace of his past country is now full of “Shu Li” (黍离, a kind of weed), for a new dynasty conquering the old one. After that, all poets only need to mention the word “Shu Li” in poem, then readers will get the meaning of someone losing his homeland and all feelings related to this event.

In this case, “Shu Li” in all literature is not a kind of plant any more. Readers will unconsciously relate this word with the background of war and the change of dynasty, as well as a depressed tone of emotion. In fact, in no case that this word can just be understood as a kind of plant in the whole history of Chinese literature, even if the author intends to.

According to Peirce’s theory, “sign-responses are frequently expressed in other signs/symbols, interpretants generate further development of meaning expressible in future interpretable signs”. In the case of ancient Chinese poetry, many such kind of words like “Shu Li” are the sign generated from some original signs (plants, country, war, time passing by) by one or several poets’ creation. With continuous literary activities of inventing new signs and passing by from one generation to another, the “prototype” words are invented, or may gradually altered, and then form a dynamic meaning system. This meaning system, however only makes sense in a limited space, which may broadly defined as Chinese Literature. After all, “Shu Li” would still only be related with the object of the plant in a botanical context. To some certain extent, it is the combination of these dynamically generated signs, not only in the space of literature but other intelligent activities, that defines so-called “culture”. 

It should be clarified that “Shu Li” is quite an extreme example. The earliest piece of creation about it, which generated new meanings that used in the following 2000 years, was so strong that there’s no other options. But in most cases, new generated meanings are also inconstant, or many poets would create their own meanings in one sign, which all become well-known, at least for some time among some certain readers, then different levels of meanings are formed.

That is what will happen in Peirce’s “interpretant” process, when all kinds of responses to signs appear in people’s minds when receiving the signal to “decode” a symbol. Different levels of meanings are all presented in front of the reader in that moment, then different kinds of understandings are made, and as a result, diversity emerges in the analysis of literature. Of  course, each school has their own theories on how to explain literature works. Some claim it’s exclusive because signs in literature have certain explanations, while others indicate the writer has done all his job when finishing his works, and readers have all rights and freedom to explain it.