International Semiotic Summer School in Prague:  Visual Metaphor July 23rd – July 28th.

General description

The International Semiotic Summer School in Prague will consist of four full days onsite at the Charles University Faculty of Humanities, with keynote lectures in the mornings, PhD student panel presentations in the afternoons, interactive workshops and specialty lectures in the evenings, and night time social events. The Summer School is geared specifically to current PhD and MA students in the area of general semiotics, offering an opportunity to share their research with colleagues from other countries and universities, and to meet and socialize with experts in their fields. All attendees are encouraged but not required to present their own research. Funding scholarships for travel and accommodation are available to all early applicants. Representatives from five cooperating universities comprise the organizing committee: RWTH Aachen University, the University of Bologna, St. Kliment Ohridski at the University of Sofia, The Erasmus School of Philosphy in Rotterdam, Palacký University in Olomouc, and Charles University in Prague. The principal hosts are the Program for Electronic Culture and Semiotics at Charles University and the International Semiotics Institute.

Keynote speakers

Martin Švantner, Charles University Prague, Czechia
Jordan Zlatev, Lund University, Sweden
Miglena Nikolchina, St. Kliment Ohridski at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria
Jana Švorcová, Charles University Prague, Czechia|
Martin Thiering, University of Europe for Applied Sciences in Berlin, Germany


Speciality lectures and workshops will also be given by Yogi Hendlin, Filip Jaroš, Alin Olteanu, Oscar Miyamoto,       Ľudmila Lacková, Israel Chávez, Tyler James Bennett, Aliki Apostolidouand others.

Instructions for applicants

Abstracts should be 400 words, including a name, title, affiliation, contact email, and a list of no more than three references. Presentations will be twenty minutes with ten minutes for discussion.The entire event will be livestreamed on the Semiosalong Youtube channel for audiences abroad. Send your abstracts to by April 15th. The language of all presentations is English. Applicants should specify in the email whether they are seeking additional funding or will come on their own budget. Applicants who are not presenting do not need to submit an abstract, but non-presenting applicants who seek funding should include a one-page letter of motivation. Notification of acceptance of abstracts and scholarships for applicants will be sent no later than May 15th. Registration will be open after May 15th. Registration information will be posted on the conference webpage. The registration fee for non-scholarship receiving applicants will be 100 euros.

Theme description

Two non-identical images are superimposed, combined or somehow placed together – think of an ice cream cone with a scoop of melting ice cream on top that is blue and green, like the planet earth. In this case there are obvious intended meanings, but there are also possible supplementary ones. Metaphors always invite comparisons, but the range of interpretation is not unlimited.

Cognitive semantics has shown the ubiquity of metaphor as more than mere literary ornament – the cross-mapping that happens in metaphor undergirds all perceptual processes. What appears to be literal meaning turns out to be more metaphorical than we thought. In the process of catachresis, metaphors are absorbed into common usage and no longer perceived as such. Lakoff and Johnson’s most famous conceptual metaphor, life is a journey, is just one example of how metaphor inflects our usage sometimes without our knowing it. This problem of identifying engrained metaphors as metaphors is an even greater challenge in the domain of the visual, where we often lack the cues that normally draw our attention to the non-equivalence of the terms involved in a linguistic metaphor.

De-coding visual metaphors is a major task of the digital age. Awash in the apparently pictographic language of online images, we would sometimes be better advised to treat these images as real hieroglyphs – the multiple visual elements of the hieroglyph do not correspond to those real-world objects with which they are similar, but function instead as symbols in their own right, as explored by Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous treatment of the rebus. The pieces of pictographic expressions are partly codified by cultural and other conventions. Without awareness of the codes being used, visual metaphors, such as are found in advertising, can be even more insidious than their linguistic counterparts.

Not only does the notion of metaphor exceed the area of verbal language – visual metaphor is also abundant in non-human communication, for example in mimicry and deception. The butterfly whose wings have evolved to appear like the eyes of a bird succeeds in evading its predator – clearly the spots on the wings are iconic of something which the butterfly is not. Can it be said that the butterfly deceives its predator in this case? There is no symbolic component in the transmission, but does this mean there is no metaphor? Different positions prevail, and at the International Semiotic Summer School in Prague we will continue the perennial interrogation of terms like intention, sign and symbol, for the domain of visual metaphor.

In ekphrasis – the verbal description of visual objects – visual metaphor is once again returned to the domain of literature, where unexpected comparisons serve both emancipatory and ideological purposes. Contemporary approaches to multimodality sometimes presume to capture the analogical aspect of metaphor within a conceptual apparatus that itself is purely literal; however, approaches here also extrapolate from linguistic to media analysis. How can we describe metaphor without actually using figurative language? The question returns us to the old problematic of sixties-era semiotics, for which the only escape from the prison-house of language was through language itself. Textual deviance foregrounds and breaks the invisible code: the reader is released to the interpretative freedom of the primordial metaphor. The difference between this approach and the Peirce-inspired cognitive approach to visual metaphor is massive, but much progress has already been made in bridging the gulf and moving towards a propergeneral semiotics that encompasses both. At the International Semiotic Summer School in Prague, with the help of many guest students and teachers, to employ the famous metaphor again, we will take another step on this journey.

Suggested topics

Tropes and rhetoric for digital applications
Metaphor as multimedia and multimodal device
Linguistic analysis in visual, plastic, and performing arts
Analogy in imagination and creativity
Metaphor in propositional theory and philosophy of language
Metaphor as deception in human and non-human communication
Diagram experiments in cognitive semiotics
Conceptual metaphor theory, cognitive semantics, and conceptual blending
Structuralism and semiology – textualism in contemporary applications
The language metaphor of life – biosemiotics and hermeneutics of evolutionary biology 
Abductive inference in Peircean pragmatics

Important links

Conference webpage
Conference Facebook event page                                                                                                                                         
Program for Electronic Culture and Semiotics                                                                                                                   
Semiosalong Youtube channel

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