Idiolects and idiotics

An idiolect is the “dialect” of one person. It is unique to that person. We all speak an idiolect unique to us. No one else speaks in exactly the same way as you do. In fact, the varieties of idolects among speakers of even the same dialect can be quite pronounced, to say nothing of speakers who have been acculturated to different dialects.

Virtually, the same thing is true for our use and understanding of semiotics. Each one of us has a unique tangle of semiotics even if we share the same culture. Even if two people were born and raised in the same very strict cult, they will have different takes on their “shared” semiotics; they will see thier semiotics in individual and unique ways.

The term “idiolect” is a blend of the prefix idio, which means “own, personal, distinct to the individual” and the suffix lect, which is taken from the word “dialect.”

In that spirit, I want to coin the term “idiotics” to mean “the semiotics unique to one person.” Each and every one of us has a very complex idiotics.

It is profoundly important to know this and to understand it deeply.

We can talk at length about the generalities of our idiotics and profit from discussions like that. But we will never fully grasp what our idiotics do, how they function, and when they come into play unless we tackle them the moment they arise.

This is so because idiotics are very complex, with many parts bonded and tangled together in unique ways. The only time we can really get anything approaching an objective view of them is when they arise as small bits within real-life conversations. We can only see them when they function in the moment, when they touch our emotions in the moment, when they determine how we hear, speak, or respond in the moment.

General discussions lead away from idiotics because general discussion by their very natures (being general) are not unique to the individual. By definition, generalities are not idiotics.

This is one reason it is possible (indeed, common, I believe) for individuals to feel horribly lonely while in the company of other people. Or to feel horribly lonely when trying to explain yourself as you get more and more lost in generalities.

If you are never able to deal with, contend with, analyze, or remark upon you or your partner’s idiotics, you will have a bad time.

FIML practice works because it works with idiotics. Ironically, working with your own and your partner’s idiotics will make you much smarter.

One thought on “Idiolects and idiotics

  1. Saussure argued that ‘nothing is more appropriate than the study of languages to bring out the nature of the semiological problem’ ( Saussure 1983, 16 ; Saussure 1974, 16 ). Semiotics draws heavily on linguistic concepts, partly because of the influence of Saussure and because linguistics is a more established discipline than the study of other sign systems. Structuralists adopted language as their model in exploring a much wider range of social phenomena: Lévi-Strauss for myth, kinship rules and totemism; Lacan for the unconscious; Barthes and Greimas for the ‘grammar’ of narrative. Julia Kristeva declared that ‘what semiotics has discovered… is that the law governing or, if one prefers, the major constraint affecting any social practice lies in the fact that it signifies; i.e. that it is articulated like a language’ (cited in Hawkes 1977, 125 ). Saussure referred to language (his model being speech) as ‘the most important’ of all of the systems of signs ( Saussure 1983, 15 ; Saussure 1974, 16 ). Language is almost unvariably regarded as the most powerful communication system by far. For instance, Marvin Harris observes that ‘human languages are unique among communication systems in possessing semantic universality… A communication system that has semantic universality can convey information about all aspects, domains, properties, places, or events in the past, present or future, whether actual or possible, real or imaginary’ (cited in Wilden 1987, 138 ). Perhaps language is indeed fundamental: Emile Benveniste observed that ‘language is the interpreting system of all other systems, linguistic and non-linguistic’ (in Innis 1986, 239 ), whilst Claude Lévi-Strauss noted that ‘language is the semiotic system par excellence; it cannot but signify, and exists only through signification’ (Lévi-Strauss 1972, 48) .

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