A conversation with Dan Everett on Facebook led me to explain the following point about symbols a little better, or at least in fewer words, than I think I’ve ever managed before.
Symbols are the genus, the equipotential stem cells of all signs. Icons and indices are the degenerate species, the differentiated specializations.
This is a consequence of triadic relation irreducibility. A further consequence is that symbols do not evolve from icons and indices but the latter devolve from symbols.
To say symbols are the genus of signs is to say every sign has the generic potential of a symbol. This means when we see an apparent progression from degenerate species to genuine symbols it is not evolution or even development properly speaking but more akin to release of inhibition.
- Awbrey, J.L., and Awbrey, S.M. (1995), “Interpretation as Action • The Risk of Inquiry”, Inquiry : Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines 15(1), 40–52.
Archive. Journal. Online (doc) (pdf).
- Semeiotic • Sign Relations • Triadic Relations • Relation Theory
- Survey of Semiotics, Semiosis, Sign Relations