Editor's Note

By Paul Bouissac

As the 3rd issue of SemiotiX is going online, a brief reflexion is in order. First, the overwhelmingly positive feedback that has been received so far indicates how necessary such an organ of information is in the age of the internet. There cannot be a global community of researchers without the regular circulation of reports and news providing everybody with a detailed image of what semioticians do around the world and what is the state of the art in the many domains that comprise semiotics. Naturally, this requires the collaboration of the whole community of active researchers. SemiotiX will be able to fulfill its mission as long as relevant information is sent to the Editor or the Managing Editor.

The only criticism that has been voiced to date concerns the material presentation of SemiotiX that some have found to be lacking in technical sophistication, notably the fact that the whole issue must be scrolled down rather than being composed.of individual pages as is the case for most newspapers online. We must keep in mind that SemiotiX is supported by a minimal budget and that, most importantly, it must also be able to circulate in other media. The present format makes it easier for each issue to be tranferred on CD-ROMs or to be printed (and distributed) as a single document. SemiotiX is distributed in this form in countries in which the internet is still heavily controlled and even censored for reasons that are not always obvious. In the future, SemiotiX will appear both as it does now and in a form that will please even computer-savvy readers.

As time goes, new rubrics will be added, new correspondents will volunteer reports, and the new Guest-Column will attract informative and stimulating reflexions from the readers. SemiotiX will continue to be published in English, which is the language of global communication, notably between East and West. However, it is hoped that some semioticians will endeavor to produce versions of this bulletin in other languages. In compliance with the open source principle, anybody is welcome to translate, adapt and possibly complete the issues of SemiotiX in any form and language that would make it more accessible to a linguistically more diverse community of semioticians.

Research Highlights

For those semioticians who hold that the complete description and explanation of semiotic phenomena cannot gloss over the neural processes which are associated in real time with these events, a recent issue of Nature (6 January 2005, Vol. 433) offers two articles of particular interest. The first one (p. 31-32), a "brief communication" by researchers from the Department of Cognitive Psychology at the Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain), reports the results of an investigation of the neural processing of a whistled language that is a rare surrogate of Spanish used by shepherds on the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands to communicate acoustically over long distances. Based on functional neuroimaging data, this research highlights the adaptability of the brain's language regions by demonstrating that these regions "can adapt to a surprisingly wide range of signalling forms." This article and the supplementary information that is found on Nature 's website, document both the semiotic plasticity of the human brain and the neurological functions that constrain this plasticity.

The second article (p. 68-72) bears upon the decoding of fear (and other emotions) in the human face. It focuses on the importance of the amygdala, a region of the medial temporal lobe, in processing information about facial expressions. This article is accompanied by a short summary, by Patrik Vuilleumier (University of Geneva), in the section "News and Views" (p. 22-23), that frames this research in the wider context of the decoding of facial emotions and puts its significance in evolutionary perspective. It points out at the same time the limits of the results reported in the article and suggests further empirical investigations. The article itself follows up an earlier account published in 1994 (Nature 372, 669-672) documenting the impaired recognition of fearful facial expressions in the case of a patient with bilateral damage to the amygdala. The new research identifies more specifically the deficit as a lack of spontaneous fixations on the eyes during free viewing of faces. It implies that the eyes are the most important feature for identifying fear. The authors claim that this finding provides an explanation of the amygdala's role in fear recognition. They conclude that the inability of the patient to recognize fearful facial expressions is not due to a basic visuoperceptual deficit in processing information from the eye region of the face, but is instead a failure by the amygdala to direct the visual system to seek out, fixate, pay attention to and make use of such information to identify emotions. Supplementary information can be found at "www.nature.com/nature.

"Neural processing of a whistled language". Manuel Carreiras, Jorge Lopez, Francisco Rivero & David Corina. Nature, vol. 433, 31-32.

"Staring fear in the face". Patrick Vuillemier. Nature, vol. 433, 22-23.

"A mechanism for impaired fear recognition after amygdala damage." Ralph Adolphs, Frederic Gosselin, Tony W. Buchanan, Daniel Tranel, Philippe Schyns & Antonio R. Damasio.Nature, vol. 433, 68-72.