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Semantics and the Body

In Traditional Semantics, the Human Body Tends to be ignored in the process of constructing meaning. Horst Ruthrof argues, on the other hand, that the body is an integral part of this hermeneutic activity. Strictly language-based theories, and theories which conflate formal and natural languages, run into problems when they describe how we actually communicate in cultural settings. Semantics and the Body proposes that language is no more than a symbolic grid which does not signify at all unless it is brought to life by non-linguistic signs.

Ruthrof reviews and analyses various 'orthodox' theories of meaning, from the views of Gottlob Frege at the beginning of the twentieth century to the postmodern period, and then offers an alternative approach of his own. His theory features 'corporeal semantics, ' and holds that meaning has ultimately to do with the body and that linguistic expressions can mean anything at all unless they are activated by visual, tactile, olfactory, and other bodily signs. This approach remedies what Ruthrof sees also as a loss of interpretive will in the postmodern era.

Pedagogy in many fields could be enormously enriched by a systemic integration of non-verbal semiosis into a linguistically-dominated syllabus. The body should figure more prominently in language interpretation and meaning construction. Ruthrof develops a semantics built on these principles, and those involved in discourse analysis, literature, art criticism, film theory, pedagogy, and philosophy will find the implications of his study considerable.

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About the Author

Horst Ruthrof is a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Murdoch University, Western Australia.

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