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)

German Philosophy Seminar 2020-2021: Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Communication

Our colleague, Johan Siebers, together with Vic Seidler are convening the fortnightly seminars on Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Communication.

Martin Buber’s dialogical philosophy contains a fundamental reflection on the nature of human relations and how they can be participated in, interpreted, and studied. In this seminar we will examine Buber’s main writings, focusing on his claim that the dialogical I-Thou relation differs fundamentally from social relations, that it can only be understood on its own terms, that it exists in communicative speech (even though not always words are exchanged in concrete I-Thou instances) and that it resists all attempts at objectification. We will bring this claim into conversation with other approaches to understanding human relations and the nature of the social, e.g. Marxism, feminism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, communication theory and contemporary social philosophy. We will ask how the interhuman and the social are related. Could a future-oriented, utopian horizon to human relationality emerge as the mediation between the interhuman and the social? How might this inform a contemporary assessment of Buber’s work? We’ll work with primary texts by Buber and others, as well as with literary and first-person accounts of relationality and dialogue.

Convenors: Johan Siebers (Bloch Centre/Middlesex University) and Vic Seidler (Goldsmiths/Leo Baeck College)

Seminars will be held fortnightly on Mondays, from 16:00-18:00 (online via Zoom). Participation is free, however advance online registration is required as only registered participants will be sent to the link to access the event. 

Dates – please follow the link to register for each meeting:

5 October 2020
19 October 2020
2 November 2020
16 November 2020
30 November 2020 
14 December 2020

More information:

The Multimodal Writer


THE LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION RESEARCH CLUSTER IS DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE A PRESENTATION BY award-winning author of theory, fiction and creative non-fiction, Dr Josie Barnard on how can a writer optimise his or her ability to move between genres and technologies.

When? Thursday, 12th March 2020, 15.00-16.00

Where? Room CG09 (College building), Middlesex University, London, NW4 4BT


These are exciting times for creative writing. In our digital age, the ability to move between types of writing and technologies – often at speed – is increasingly essential for writers. Yet, such flexibility can be difficult to achieve, and, how to develop it remains a pressing challenge. Josie Barnard’s academic research has at the centre one question: how can a writer optimise his or her ability to move between genres and technologies? Her new book  The Multimodal Writer sets out to provide theoretical background and serve as a practical tool to help writers face challenges and embrace opportunities presented by new media technologies robustly, effectively, and with pleasure.


Biographical note:

IMG_7293-768x512Dr. Josie Barnard SFHEA is an award-winning author of theory, fiction and creative non-fiction whose academic research centres on the application of creativity to the challenge of bridging the digital divide.  Her research into digital literacy is represented by her Macmillan International Higher Education monograph The Multimodal Writer: Creative Writing Across Genres and Media (2019). Her research into digital inclusion is represented by her BBC Radio 4 programme, Digital Future: the New Underclass (2019).  She has developed an empirically tested pedagogical model for teaching digital literacy.  The author of six books, including the Betty Trask award-winning Poker Face (1996) and extensive print and broadcast journalism and international academic articles and chapters, Josie is currently co-editing a Multimodal Writing Special Issue of the National Association of Writers in Education journal Writing in Practice (2021).  She collaborates with government departments and other key stakeholder groups to inform policy and develop citizens’ digital literacy.

The Language and Communication Research Seminars are free and open to all staff, students and guests. For any questions or if you would like to lead a session, contact Anna Charalambidou.

Click here to see all 2019-20 Language & Communication research seminars.

Supercategory Semantics: Religion, Science, History

THE LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION RESEARCH CLUSTER Is delighted to invite you to our first seminar for 2020, by Dr Adrian Pablé, Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong:

When? Monday, 13th January 2020, 16.45 – 17.45

Where? Room VG06, Vine building, Middlesex University, London, NW4 4BT

Dr PableIn this talk Adrian will offer some reflections on the concept of the ‘Supercategory’, as outlined by Oxford linguist Roy Harris in the books The Necessity of Art (2003), The Linguistics of History (2004) and The Semantics of Science (2005). Harris argues that academic disciplines like Science, History and Religion (among others) are either built on realist surrogationalist philosophies of language, whereby words mean by ‘standing for’ something other than itself, or on holistic models of language based on some form of idealism.

Against this background Adrian will introduce Harris’ integrational linguistics as a third (semiological) alternative, with its emphasis on human activity and on the integration (or contextualization) of signs.

The Language and Communication Research Seminars are free and open to all staff, students and guests. For any questions or if you would like to lead a session, contact Anna Charalambidou.

Click here to see all 2019-20 Language & Communication research seminars.