Categories of Codes

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This article both explores and critiques the possibility that many complexities of human communication can be clarified by a single concept, that of coding. Borrowing from information theory to define “code” and “text,” the article proposes that three types of code work together to organize meanings across all kinds of human communication and expression. These three types of code are syntaxtic, parataxic, and prototaxic. Each of these types of coding follows its own set of rules and principles, and each is suitable for organizing meaning at a progressively deeper psychological level. Simultaneously, therefore, each is further removed from ordinary thought and is progressively less amenable to systematic and logical analysis in the ordinary sense of these terms. Taken together, the three types of coding reveal the complexity of meaning construction and the way that ordinary theoretical analysis reaches its limits in attempting to encompass the full range and depth of human meaning.


This article originally appeared in Semiotica, 85(1/2) (1991), pp. 41-72, ©Walter de Gruyter. The published article is available at Copies of the article can also be obtained from the author via the portal at the bottom of this page.