Third Middlesex Roundtable on Signs, Language and Communication: 9 and 10 February 2021

The Middlesex Roundtable on Signs, Language and Communication is an annual workshop launched in January 2019 to encourage discussion between three paradigms of language and communication theory: the integrationism of Roy Harris and his followers, biosemiotics and philosophy of communication. These areas of thought and scholarship share assumptions regarding the fundamental role played by communicative interaction in the emergence of signification, meaning and relationality. They also share views of communication and language that are not limited to the understanding of language as a code-based domain.

The Roundtable is an initiative of Paul Cobley (Professor of Language and Media, Middlesex), Adrian Pablé (Associate Professor, Department of English, Hong Kong University) and Johan Siebers (Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Middlesex). It aims to create fruitful interactions between these approaches in an informal context of invited papers, “flipped” conference style (short talks, long conversations) and, each year, a focus on a different topic.

The first Roundtable in 2019 provided participants with the opportunity to discuss basic features of the three approaches. A special issue of Sign Systems Studies based on the papers presented there was published in June 2020.

The Second Roundtable on Signs, Language and Communication on the theme of intersubjectivity, took place in January 2020 on the campus of Middlesex University London.

Due to the ongoing Coronovirus pandemic, The Third Roundtable will take place virtually, with four sessions over two days. As participants are based in widely different time zones it may not be possible for everyone to attend each session. Therefore, sessions will be recorded and transcribed and made available to participants afterwards.

The focus of the Third Roundtable will be on ontologies of language and communication

Following the ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology, the linguists Pennycook and Makoni recently suggested that the Whorfian relativity hypothesis implies “a problematic universality of both humanity and the world” (2019: 72), i.e. the assumption that nature is one and cultures/languages are many might be ethnocentric. As the authors further argue, “it is not just world views but worlds that may in themselves vary”. Hence we might ask the question whether language (mass), languages (count) and human communication more generally possess different ontologies in different worlds, as recently suggested by Hauck and Heurich (2018), and whether there are any universal linguistic or communicational phenomena at all that human beings share, one such candidate possibly being the ‘sign’? But then which kind of sign? The Saussurean sign? The Peircean sign? The Harrisian (i.e. integrated) sign?

The third Middlesex Roundtable on Signs, Language and Communication invites scholars from different fields, in particular from biosemiotics, communication studies, anthropological linguistics, applied linguistics and integrationism, to meet and exchange their views on the ‘multiple ontologies’ thesis and discuss whether the notion of a unified theory of language and/or communication (of whatever kind) is Eurocentric and therefore based on what linguist Roy Harris has called the Language Myth (Harris 1981).


Talks will be limited to 10 minutes at the most and are intended to stimulate conversation, dialogue and discussion. If presenters or discussants would like to share a paper, handout or slides with the participants in advance, please send your document to Johan Siebers (, who will then distribute it before the Roundtable (there is no expectation or need for this, just a possibility).

9 February

Session 1: 10:00-12:00 GMT (11:00 CET; 18:00 Hong Kong; 05:00 Philadelphia; 03:00 Boulder; 02:00 West Coast)

Zoom link:

Kalevi Kull (University of Tartu): On Arbitrariness

Sarah Bro Trasmundi (University of Southern Denmark): The Troublemaker of Linguistic Meaning

Charlotte Conrad (Dubai): Towards an Integrationist Understanding of Communication

Nathaniel Barron (Birmingham University): Something’s missing with Amerindian Perspectivism: Ernst Bloch and the question of the One of the Many

Session 2: 15:00-17:00 GMT (16:00 CET; 23:00 Hong Kong; 10:00 Philadelphia; 08:00 Boulder; 06:00 West Coast)

Zoom link:

Elena Fell (Tomsk Polytechnic Research University): Confusing Monologues with Dialogical Engagement as a Cross-Cultural Communication Problem between Russians and Westerners

Bob Craig (University of Colorado, Boulder): What is an Ontology?

Per Linell (Gothenburg University): Epistemologies, Not Ontologies

Adrian Pablé (Hong Kong University): The Ontology of the Linguistic Sign

10 February

Session 3: 10:00-12:00 GMT (11:00 CET; 18:00 Hong Kong; 05:00 Philadelphia; 03:00 Boulder; 02:00 West Coast)

Zoom link:

Chris Barnham (Chris Barnham Research and Strategy Ltd.): The Ontology of the Peircean Sign: Is it a Synthetic Identity?   

Sinead Kwok (Hong Kong University): Is Translation a Universal? A discussion between a Hermeneutician, a Semiotician and an Integrationist

Joana Bicacro (Lusófona University Lisbon): (No Title)

Johan Siebers  (Middlesex University): Communication Ontology and Forms of Life

Session 4: 15:00-17:00 GMT (16:00 CET; 23:00 Hong Kong; 10:00 Philadelphia; 08:00 Boulder; 06:00 West Coast)

Zoom link:

Chris Hutton (Hong Kong University): McLuhan and Harris on Writing and Thought: Shades of Korzybski?

Peter Simonson (University of Colorado, Boulder): Peircean Speculative Rhetoric, Biosemiotics, and ‘the Ontological Turn’

Jan David Hauck/Guilherme Heurich (LSE, UCL ): Linguistic Natures: Towards an Ethnographic Theory of Language

Dorthe Duncker (Copenhagen University): What is There to Talk About? Language Ontologies in a Harrisean Perspective

Presenters and Discussants (as of 1 February)

  • Chris Barnham (Chris Barnham Research and Strategy Ltd.)
  • Nathaniel Barron (Birmingham University)
  • Mats Bergman (Helsinki University)
  • Joana Bicacro (Lusófona University Lisbon)
  • Sarah Bro Trasmundi (University of Southern Denmark)
  • Paul Cobley (Middlesex University)
  • Charlotte Conrad  (Dubai)
  • Stephen Cowley (University of Southern Denmark)
  • Bob Craig (University of Colorado, Boulder)
  • Dorthe Duncker (Copenhagen University)
  • Elena Fell (Tomsk Polytechnic Research University)
  • Federico Filauri (University of London)
  • José Gomes Pinto (Lusófona University Lisbon)
  • Jan David Hauck (London School  of Economics)
  • Guilherme Heurich (University College London)
  • Chris Hutton (Hong Kong University)
  • Artemis Ignatidou (University of London)
  • Sinfree Makoni (Penn State)
  • Kęstas Kirtiklis (Vilnius University)
  • Kalevi Kull (University of Tartu)
  • Sinead Kwok (Hong Kong University)
  • Per Linell (Gothenburg University)
  • Nigel Love (University of Cape Town)
  • Adrian Pablé (Hong Kong University)
  • Andrea Peloumbi (Middlesex University)
  • Lydia Sanchez (University of Barcelona)
  • Vic Seidler (Goldsmiths)
  • Johan Siebers  (Middlesex University)
  • Peter Simonson (University of Colorado, Boulder)
  • Sune Steffensen (University of Southern Denmark)
  • Lars Taxen (Linköping University)
  • Francesca Vidal (University of Landau)
  • Nicholas White (University of Portsmouth)

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