10 July 2018 Photo Supplied
Inaugural lecture focuses on understanding society
Dr Kristina Riedel, Head of the UFS Department of Linguistics and Language Practice with Prof Kobus Marais at his inaugural lecture in May.

Understanding what the terms ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ mean and where they come from is important for Prof Kobus Marais. “If one thinks about it carefully, there was a time in the history of the universe and Earth that terms like ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ did not exist. So, if they did not exist from the very beginning, they must have emerged through some process,” he said at his inaugural lecture held earlier this year.

Prof Marais is a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and Language Practice at the University of the Free State (UFS). His interest is in translation studies, but he is conceptualising translation as a technical term that refers to the semiotic process   in other words, the process through which living organisms create meaningful responses to an environment. 

Semiotics entails the study of signs, and it holds that anything in the universe can act as a sign or be interpreted as one. “A tune can be a sign of resistance against political domination, such as Give me hope, Jo’anna, a song by Eddie Grant, and smoke can be a sign of fire, just as the word ‘rose’ could be a sign of a sweet-smelling flower of any colour,” Prof Marais said. 

The universe is perfused by signs, and we are constantly interpreting them, from traffic signs to buildings to agricultural practices to more abstract things like ‘the law’, ‘politics’, ‘economics’ or ‘religion’. All of these things mean something to us and were made as meaningful responses to an environment.

Inaugural lectures vital part of any university
“Inaugural lectures afford professors the opportunity to table a broader research agenda as well as the opportunity to reflect on meta-disciplinary concerns,” Prof Marais said.

He said during the lecture, he had worked out “a theory of translation that explains some aspects of where social/cultural things come from and how they come to be”. An idea that society, and or culture, are a result of translation processes, that is, “processes in which organisms (human beings in this case) respond to an environment in a meaningful way by creating social relationships and cultural phenomena”. 
“Social and cultural phenomena thus all have a meaningful (semiotic) dimension or aspect that I would like to study,” he said.

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