On an Instance of Animal Semiosis
This purpose of this reflexive paper is to discuss the implications of an instance of semiosis in the animal world, in this instance, occurring with an animal, the dog, which has, it can be argued, throughout history reaped almost unique benefits (perhaps second only to the cat) by the virtue of its semiotic abilities and how they have allowed the animal to interact successfully with humans.
Semiotics works in the animal world in a similar fashion as in the human: "In animals (...), semiosis creates structures of experience which organize the environment and determine what is and what is not functional for that animal" (Cunningham and Shank, p.3). The Umwelt has been suggested as a term for the 'significant world' of an animal, which includes both aspects which are governed by the condition of being that particular species of animal, and aspects which are related to the life the individual animal has led in the environment. Some examples of the signs that would characterize the Umwelt for a cat might include the smell of tuna fish, the sound of a cat opening, the small movements of a hand tapping a knee, the sensation of fingers patting its fur. All of these sensory stimuli function as signs for the cat.
Before leaving the feline world for the canine, let's take a brief look at the semiotic operation as defined by Charles S. Peirce.
(Cunningham, p. 6).
Everyone who has owned a cat knows that the rasp of a can opener can call a seemingly dozing feline from several blocks away. By using Peirce's definition of the sign process, the sound of the can opener functions as the kind of a sign called an index, because there is a causal link between the sound and the fact that cat food is ...
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...to: the fact that she had not included human verbal systems as important structures of her experience of her Umwelt; the fact that I had not had much interaction with the dog previous to this (she had not had many opportunities for semiosis related to my appearance); and the fact that, as her owner and primary caregiver had changed shifts, I was the one suddenly who was feeding her at night and was thus a much more important aspect to her Umwelt.
I had puzzled over Kelly's 'misunderstanding' of my command for quite awhile after this, and Peirce's sign process helps in my understanding of this instance of canine semiosis. Kelly's knowledge, her structure of signs, caused her to attend to me in what I thought was a classical operant-conditioning manner, but that way of thinking didn't fully explain the surprising results of my experience with the pit bull/labrador.