Semiosis as orchestration
David Parkin (Oxford University)
Alex Pillen (UCL)
Theresia Hofer (University of Bristol)
Adam Kendon
Magdalen Lecture Room A
Start time:
21 September, 2018 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

How are the sensory modalities of sound, touch, sight, smell and taste co-ordinated in interactive communication? How do interlocutors sense a drive towards harmonious collaboration, and how much does verbal language heal or repair communication when modalities clash? Original papers are invited.

Long abstract:

Semiosis as Orchestration. Co-convenors David Parkin ( and Alex Pillen ( In comprising all sign systems, including language, semiosis is viewed as multi-modal communication. The sensory modalities of sound, touch, sight, smell and taste may each assume dominance in specific interactions as when visual takes over from acoustic signing in a deaf community. Do particular domains of communication privilege one or more modalities over others? What are the conditions under which different modalities may, so to speak, 'take turns' in communication or, alternatively, compete? While modalities may sometimes reinforce each other (e.g. hand gestures in face-to-face speech), do they also sometimes obstruct communication (e.g. when written texts contradict what people hear or see; or when icon, index and symbol each point in different directions)? These queries raise the broader question of how human communication is 'orchestrated' or how different modalities are co-ordinated or unintentionally conflict. Whether taking the form of face-to-face or dispersed interaction, what or who 'conducts' the discourse and tries to keep it bounded and tied into a mutually recognisable theme? In the last instance, is verbal language, whether text, signed or voiced, the ultimate source of explanation and clarification when modalities clash? The analogy of orchestration may be of limited usefulness but it does invite exploration of the play of modalities which are intentionally or unintentionally deployed to secure coherence and of the misunderstandings and communication breakdowns that may also occur. Original papers (not those already published or promised) are invited to explore these problems.