FRONT PAGE / POSTS
by Hamsini Shivakumar| New Delhi, India
Saturday, 1 March 2014
tags: asia, categories, consumer culture, culture, fuzzy sets, global vectors, global/local, making sense, semiotics
WORD PAIRS – CONCEPTS OF CONNECTION VS. CONCEPTS OF DIFFERENCE
Effective cross-cultural semiotic analysis ought to reflect the diversity of cultures. It is now accepted even among psychologists that there is no universal and standardized human psychology, rather individual and group psychology is itself hugely influenced by culture. The American psycho-analyst Alan Roland wrote about his experiences and theorized a different model of the self for his Indian and Japanese patients vis-à-vis his American patients. Richard Nisbett in his book, the Geography of Thought provides ‘research study-based’ evidence of the differences in perception between Americans and Chinese. And Devdutt Pattanaik, Indian mythologist draws attention to the differences between the core belief systems underpinning Western, Chinese and Indian thought.
How might this perspective be applied to developing new semiotic tools for India/other Asian cultures?
One of the key principles of the semiotic analysis of meaning is the idea of difference and how that difference is dealt with, to create meaning. The distinctions of ‘is” vs. “is not” and “oppositions and contradictions” is a key part of the way semioticians analyze concepts and ideas to arrive at territories of meaning.
However, there is another way to look at binaries and that is through the lens of presence-absence for a sense of completion of meaning. The central idea here is of “completion” that goes with pairs of inter-twined entities. One cannot exist without the other. Both must be viewed together for the meaning to result. The separation of one from the other, distorts the meaning. To understand the essence, they must be viewed and understood in the pair, so deeply are the concepts inter-woven and inter-twined. The underlying cultural code here is not that of individuality or autonomy but of essential dependence and co-existence. It arises from a relational definition of society and culture vs. a transactional and contractual definition of society and culture. Separation would create a feeling of tremendous loss and desolation, not a celebration of individuality.
For e.g. in Hindi, there is a central idea of a “Jodi” or pair. Jodis would be concepts such as husband-wife, father-mother, brother-sister, hero-villain, sidekick-hero, master-servant, politician-media (recent), food-drink (khana-peena), hardware-software etc. The central premise can be extended to a range of entities. Is a city possible without citizens? Can a movie Star be a Star without a multitude of fans? Hindi pairs: pati-patni, mata-pita, bhai-behen, raja-praja, guru-shishya.
Applying this thinking to defining category meanings would imply that even though the product categories that are bought and sold are objects, they should be viewed and understood by combining them inextricably with the users who have the closest relationship with the object. To illustrate, cars are not cars without drivers (though new driverless high-tech cars are on the design table) and medicines are meaningless without doctors/healers/medicine men. A semiotic study on the category meaning of cancer treatments would start by looking at cancer drugs and oncologists together or at doctor-cancer sufferer as the single and complete entity rather than separating the patient, the cancer, the doctor and the medicine into separate entities that are placed in varying individual positions with respect to one another.
Could the consideration of inter-twined pairs be a new tool added to the semiotic tool box for Indian and Asian markets?
© Hamsini Shivakumar 2014