Cognitive Semiotics

IACS-3 in Toronto

David Lidov

The third conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics was held in Toronto, July 13-15, 2018, hosted by Ryerson University’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and its School of Image Arts and with the collaboration of OCAD University and the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The mission of the Association is to develop liaisons between semiotics, cognitive psychology and related enterprises. For this year’s conference, the highlighted theme was Multimodalities. The association entertains ongoing attention to embodiment in cognitive psychology, but is not attached to any particular dogma.

Venue: Ryerson University
Venue: Ryerson University

The Association ( is truly international, with a strong strain of direction from  Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. One hundred thirty participants attended from twenty countries and heard (collectively) 95 research reports.  It is my understanding that the conference had been scheduled for the United States but that the unease of several potential presenters about their visa status there prompted a late change.  Toronto’s gain, and, considering a reduced prep time, the superb local arrangements seem all the more remarkable. The leader for local arrangements was Ryerson’s Professor Jamin Pelkey, and an extra tip of the hat is in order to the fine team of graduate students that guided and prepared us.

IACS-3 plenary session
IACS-3 Professor Jamin Pelkey

We heard 6 keynote presentations.  Notable was their variety of disciplinary methodologies, ranging in that regard through history, philosophy, laboratory investigations and field work.  Dancer and dance theorist, Dr. Maxine Johnstone also provided a pre-conference movement workshop, quite an eye and heart opener for my old body.

Friday afternoon was given over to a special package of events, which OCAD’s Dr. Peter Coppin lead.  First, at the Ontario College of Design University, we had an intimate tour of graduate students work in intermodal “translation” (my term, for the presenters were more cautious), projects that used touch and sound to make available to sightless persons information and artistic expression that most of us access visually.  Then, in the theatre of the adjacent Art Gallery of Ontario, an update on University of Toronto’s Professor of Psychology, Dr. John Kennedy’s career-long investigation of spatial imaging and its expression by the blind and then a panel developing related themes. (One truly stunning finding of his is that spatial imaging in raised-line pictures by blind artists follows the same rules as for sighted persons in recognizing what would be “blocked from view” from a given “point of view”).  A panel of three presentations then developed conceptions of inter-modal representation further, and to celebrate, we had the pleasure of an elegant reception in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s architecturally distinctive Galleria Italia.

IACS-3 Professor Goran Sonesson answers questions after his plenary lecture

The business meeting (Saturday) accepted to hold the next conference in 2020 in Aachen.

Throughout the conference, the papers were stimulating and discussions were passionate.  Three of the top take-aways for me were the maturation of gesture theory, a growing critical sophistication within bio-semiotics and the continuing fertility of semiotics as a source of new research problems.  But of course, one person tastes only a restricted sample of the wares. I look forward to publications that will follow.

IACS-3 social moments: Professor David Lidov with some participants


To access the full IACS album by Calla Evans, please click here


David Lidov, a composer, a founding member and now Senior Scholar, of the Department of Music at York University in Toronto, writes on general and musical semiotics.  Publications include Is Language a Music? (2004, Indiana University Press); his general theory, Elements of Semiotics (1999, St. Martin’s Press) now available in a new digital edition at; and recent reviews for SemiotiX of Pelkey, Moody and Smartt, and Skaggs.


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