But what has been called into question in these and like experiments is the use of words such as language, symbols, sentences to describe this kind of communication. Investigators such as Terrace and Sebeok have shown that such communication does not bear the test of language in the human sense, e.g., having a rule-governed syntax. One of the weaknesses of semiotics is the all-too-frequent use of words like language and sentence in a loose analogical sense.
It has been called variously triadic behavior, thirdness, the Delta factor, man’s discovery of the sign (including symbols, language, art).
This phenomenon occurred in the evolution of man. It may have occurred elsewhere in the Cosmos, or it may have occurred in other creatures on earth. We do not know. But it is not known to have occurred elsewhere in the Cosmos and it has not been proved—despite heroic attempts with chimps, gorillas, and dolphins—to have occurred in other earth species.
The present argument does not require that triadic behavior be unique in man. Perhaps it is not. Semiotics proposes only that where triadic behavior occurs, certain new properties and relationships also come into existence,
Triadic behavior is that event in which sign A is understood by organism B, not as a signal to flee or approach, but as “meaning” or referring to another perceived segment of the environment:
Certain new properties appear. For example, all triadic behavior is social in origin. A signal received by an organism is like other signals or stimuli from its environment. But a sign requires a sign-giver. Thus, every triad of sign-reception requires another triad of sign-utterance. Whether the sign is a word, a painting, or a symphony—or Robinson Crusoe writing a journal to himself—a sign transaction requires a sign-utterer and a sign-receiver.
Other new properties appear, such as the relation between the utterer and the receiver, which are subject to such familiar variables as “intersubjectivity” (I-thou) and “depersonalization” (I-it).
A particularly mysterious property is the relation between the sign (signifier) and the referent (signified). It is expressed by the troublesome copula “is,” when Helen said that the perceived liquid “is” water (the word). It “is” but then again it is not. Herein surely is the root of all the troubles Stuart Chase spoke of when he said that his cat had no dealings with such a relationship and therefore was smarter or at least saner than humans.
Another unique property of the sign-user, of special significance here, is that as soon as he crosses the triadic threshold, he not only continues to exist in an environment but also has a world.
The world of the sign-user is not identical to its environment or the Cosmos.