Author Archives: Martin Irvine

About Martin Irvine

Martin Irvine is a professor at Georgetown University and the Founding Director of Georgetown's graduate program in Communication, Culture & Technology. He is interested in a wide range of interdisciplinary topics, including media theory, semiotics, cognitive science approaches to language and symbolic culture, computation and the Internet/Web, philosophy and intellectual history, art theory, contemporary music, vintage guitars, and all things post-postmodern.

Working with linguistics: theory and models

Introduction to The Nature of Human Language and Human Symbolic Systems

The fact of the human capacity for language is the starting point of many disciplines and research programs in all aspects of communication, symbolic culture, and media. Much of the research questions and the terminology for the study of language and human symbol systems (“vocabularies” of description, as Rorty would say) has been set by the various specialities of modern linguistics. The terms and categories for analysis in linguistics have also been widely used heuristically by other disciplines, and all students studying media and communication need to be familiar with the basic agenda and research programs in the major branches of linguistics. 

Familiarity with the concepts, terms, and assumptions of contemporary linguistics is thus essential for discussing and describing all other symbolic combinatorial systems that use language or function as language-like systems. An important open question for interdisciplinary research in all related sciences is whether we can accept the faculty of language (FOL), and the cognitive “triggers” that happen in language acquisition, as the foundation of all human symbolic processes (all those based on combinatoriality, recursion, and intersubjective material-conceptual symbols) from writing to mathematics and multimedia, or, rather, should we research further the evidence for a more generalized symbolic faculty of which language is one major (or the major) implementation. Either model leads us into the central questions about communication, culture, and technology.

We can only do a top-level overview here, but with some familiarity in the problems and core concepts, you can advance to topics of interest in your own research.

Key concepts to be used in this course: generativity, combinatoriality/compositionality, intersubjectivity, pragmatics (contextual and situational analysis, shared assumptions, speech and discourse genres and speech acts), sociolinguistics (language in everyday use and language in social group formation and identities).

Info theory


Theory and assumptions have both methodological and real-world consequences: what are normally called “core assumptions” or “presuppositions” are expressed in a set of guiding metaphors, terms, and networks of discourse that act as models–whole modeling systems–through which longer arguments, positions, and ideologies can be articulated. For our work, a “method” is formed by the kinds of questions one can ask through the kind of discourse used, and the resulting work that counts as recognizable “output” from an application of the model. As we will see, theories get deployed heuristically–used as discovery procedures–which is largely what a “method” is in many fields.

Welcome to Prof. Martin Irvine’s seminar site

This is the site devoted to the seminar Media Theory and Digital Culture (Spring 2013) in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program at Georgetown University.

The site is open for guest viewing and reading. Comments and questions can be sent to Professor Martin Irvine (

The main Web syllabus page is here, and Martin Irvine’s Georgetown home page, with links to courses, lecture notes, and online content, is here.