Dicent Symbols and Proto-propositions in Biological Mimicry

  • João Queiroz
  • Frederik Stjernfelt
  • Charbel Niño El-Hani
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 11)


Here we are specially interested in how 10 classes of signs can contribute to the construction of models that serve as tools for the investigation of biological mimicry. As a corollary to our analysis of firefly signaling (El-Hani, Queiroz & Stjernfelt, 2010), we analyze the capacity of producing propositions (i.e., dicisigns) as a general requisite for a semiotic system to act as a mimic. We will show that Peirce’s mature theory of signs brings an important contribution to the building of a general semiotic theory of mimicry, since it is quite helpful in addressing semantic and pragmatic aspects of biological information. As it is well known, the semiotic processes involved in biological mimicry most often do not result from learning processes taking place in the individual semiotic system, but from the fine-tuning of inherited capacities by natural selection among variants over thousands or millions of generations. Still, the concrete sign exchange takes place within the lifetime of a single individual - and those signals, indicating and describing at the same time, should be conceived of as dicisigns. This calls for an investigation of the Peircean notion of the dicisign, which is a generalization of the notion of proposition. One the one hand, it liberates assertion from the confines of language and points to its appearance also in pictures, gesture, etc. That is, it generalizes propositions from being a human privilege so as to also embrace simpler dicisings found in biology.


Alarm Call Vervet Monkey Semiotic System Semiotic Process Demonstrative Pronoun 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



C.N.E. thanks The State of Bahia Research Foundation (FAPESB) for research funds and the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) for a productivy in research grant, F.S. thanks Aarhus University and the The Danish Council for Independent Research/Humanities.


  1. Atkin, A. (2005). Peirce on the index and indexical reference. Transactions of The Charles S. Peirce Society, 41(1), 161–188.Google Scholar
  2. Cheney, D. L. and S. R. (1990). How Monkeys See the World. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cheney, D. L. and R. M. Seyfarth (1998). Why monkeys don’t have language. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. G. Petersen. Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press. 19: 173–210.Google Scholar
  4. Clark, A. (2006). Language, embodiment, and the cognitive niche. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(8), 370–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. De Tienne, A. (2003). Learning qua semiosis. S.E.E.D. Journal–Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development, 3, 37–53.Google Scholar
  6. El-Hani, C., et al. (2010). Firefly femmes fatales: A case study in the semiotics of deception. Biosemiotics, 3, 33–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Farias, P., & Queiroz, J. (2000). Notes for a dynamic diagram of Charles Peirce’s classifications of signs. Semiotica, 131(1/2), 19–44.Google Scholar
  8. Farias, P., & Queiroz, J. (2003). On diagrams for Peirce’s 10, 28, and 66 classes of signs. Semiotica, 147(1/4), 165–184.Google Scholar
  9. Farias, P., & Queiroz, J. (2004). 10cubes and 3N3: Using interactive diagrams to investigate Charles Peirce’s classifications of signs. Semiotica, 151(1/4), 41–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Freadman, A. (2001). The classifications of signs (II): 1903. In J. Queiroz & R. Gudwin (Eds.), Digital encyclopedia of C. S.Peirce. Accessed 1 Jan 2012.
  11. Freadman, A. (2004). The machinery of talk—Charles Peirce and the sign hypothesis. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hilpinen, R. (1992). On Peirce’s philosophical logic: Propositions and their objects. Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, 28(3), 467–488.Google Scholar
  13. Hoffman, M. (2001). The 1903 classification of triadic sign-relations. In J. Queiroz & R. Gudwin (Eds.), Digital encyclopedia of C.S.Peirce. Accessed 1 Jan 2012.
  14. Houser, N. (1991). A Peircean classification of models. In M. Anderson e F. Merrell (eds.). On Semiotic Modeling. Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 431–439.Google Scholar
  15. Houser, N. (1992). On Peirce’s theory of propositions: A response to Hilpinen. Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, XXIII(3), 489–504.Google Scholar
  16. Houser, N. (2010). Peirce, phenomenology, and semiotics. In Paul Cobley (Ed.), The routledge companion to semiotics (pp. 89–100). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Hurford, J. (2007). The origins of meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Jappy, A. (1989). Peirce’s sixty-six signs revisited. In G. Deledalle (Ed.), Semiotics and pragmatics proceedings of the perpignan symposium on semiotics and pragmatics (pp. 143–153). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  19. Lieb, I. C. (1977). Appendix B. In C. S. Hardwick (Ed.), Semiotics and significs: The correspondence between Charles S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby (pp. 161–166). Indiana: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lizska, J. (1996). A general introduction to the semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce. Indiana: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lloyd, J. E. (1965). Aggressive mimicry in Photuris: Firefly femmes fatales. Science, 149, 653–654.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lloyd, J. E. (1975). Aggressive mimicry in Photuris fireflies: Signal repertoires by femmes fatales. Science, 187, 452–453.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lloyd, J. E. (1986). Firefly communication and deception: “Oh, what a tangled web”. In R. W. Mitchell & N. S. Thompson (Eds.), Deception: Perspectives on human and nonhuman deceit (pp. 113–128). Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  24. Merrell, F. (1996). Signs grow. Toronto: University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  25. Parker, K. (1998). The continuity of Peirce’s thought. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Queiroz, J. (2003). Comunicação simbólica em primatas não-humanos: uma análise baseada na semiótica de C.S.Peirce. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 25(Supl II), 2–5.Google Scholar
  27. Queiroz, J. (2012a). Dicent symbols in non-human semiotic processes. Biosemiotics, 5, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Queiroz, J. (2012b). Peirce’s ten classes of signs: Modeling biosemiotic processes and systems. In T. Maran, K. Lindström, R. Magnus, & M. Tønnessen (Eds.), Semiotics in the wild—Essays in honour of Kalevi Kull on the occasion of his 60th birthday (pp. 55–62). Tartu: Tartu University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Queiroz, J., & El-Hani, C. (2006). Towards a multi-level approach to the emergence of meaning in living systems. Acta Biotheoretica, 54, 179–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Queiroz, J., & Ribeiro, S. (2002). The biological substrate of icons, indexes and symbols in animal communication: A neurosemiotic analysis of Vervet monkey alarm-calls. In M. Shapiro (Ed.), Peirce seminar V (pp. 69–78). Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  31. Rescher, N. (1996). Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  32. Ribeiro, S., et al. (2007). Symbols are not uniquely human. Bio Systems, 90, 263–272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sanders, G. (1970). Peirce sixty-six signs? Transactions of Charles Sanders Peirce Society, 6(1), 3–16.Google Scholar
  34. Savan, D. (1977). Questions concerning certain classifications claimed for signs. Semiotica, 19(3/4), 179–196.Google Scholar
  35. Sebeok, T. A. (1989). The sign and its masters. New York: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  36. Serson, B. (1997). On Peirce’s pure grammar as a general theory of cognition: From the thought-sign of 1868 to the semeiotic theory of assertion. Semiotica, 113(1/2), 107–157.Google Scholar
  37. Seyfarth, R. M. and Cheney D. L. (1986). “Vocal development in vervet monkeys.” Animal Behavior, 34, 1640–1658.Google Scholar
  38. Seyfarth, R. M. and D. L. Cheney (1986). “Vocal development in vervet monkeys.” Animal Behavior 34: 1640–1658.Google Scholar
  39. Short, T. (2007). Peirce’s theory of signs. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stjernfelt, F. (2011). Signs conveying information: On the range of Peirce’s notion of propositions: Dicisigns. International Journal of Signs and Semiotic Systems, 1(2), 40–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stjernfelt, F. (2012). The evolution of semiotic self-control: Sign evolution as the ongoing refinement of the basic argument structure of biological metabolism. In T. Schilhab, F. Stjernfelt, & T. Deacon (Eds.), The symbolic species evolved (pp. 39–63). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  42. De Tienne, A. (2003). Learning qua semiosis. S.E.E.D. Journal—Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development 3: 37–53.Google Scholar
  43. Tomasello, M., et al. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(5), 675–735.Google Scholar
  44. Weiss, P., & Burks, A. (1945). Peirce’s sixty-six signs. Journal of Philosophy, XLII, 383–388.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • João Queiroz
    • 1
  • Frederik Stjernfelt
    • 2
  • Charbel Niño El-Hani
    • 3
  1. 1.Federal University of Juiz de ForaJuiz de ForaBrazil
  2. 2.University of AarhusAarhusDenmark
  3. 3.Federal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil

Personalised recommendations