The Musical Turn in Biosemiotics: An Expressivist Model of Communication

Matthew A. Slayton, Yogi Hale Hendlin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Human music and language are two systems of communication and expression that, while historically considered to overlap, have become increasingly divergent in their approach and study. Music and language almost certainly co-evolved and emerged from the same semiotic field, and this relationship as well as co-origin are actively researched and debated. For the sake of evaluating the semiotic content of zoomusicology, we investigate music from a ‘bottom-up’ biosemiotic functionalist account considering iconic, indexical, and symbolic forms of meaning not in a hierarchy but according to their effects on agents. Such an approach avoids overintellectualizing the representational aspects of music, and instead inverts, as it were, the traditional hierarchy of semiotic categories to produce illocutionary effects. Understanding aesthetics and action not as a priori separate but rather fundamentally co-arising elements of the same events. The focus of musicality again returns to interpretation and how semiosis precipitates expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-237
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

Funding: None.


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