Semioticians and their work
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Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs (or symbols) both individually and grouped in sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is made and understood through signs. Semioticians may also examine how organisms, no matter how big or small, make predictions about and adapt to their semiotic niche in the world (see Semiosis). Semiotics theorizes at a general level about signs, while the study of the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics. The subject was originally spelled "semeiotics" to honour John Locke (1632–1704), who, in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1690), first coined the term "semeiotike" from the Greek word σημειον or semeion, meaning "mark" or "sign".
Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), founder of the philosophical doctrine known as pragmatism, preferred the term "semeiotic." He defined semiosis as "...action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs." ("Pragmatism", Essential Peirce 2: 411; written 1907). His notion of semiosis evolved throughout his career, beginning with the triadic relation just described, and ending with a system consisting of 59,049 possible elements and relations. One reason for this high number is that he allowed each interpretant to act as a sign, thereby creating a new signifying relation. Peirce was also a notable logician, and he considered semiotics and logic as facets of a wider theory. For an earnest attempt to systematize Peirce's unsystematic contributions to semiotics, see Liszka (1996).
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the "father" of modern linguistics, proposed a dualistic notion of signs, relating the signifier as the form of the word or phrase uttered, and to the signified as the mental concept. It is important to note that, according to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary, i.e. there is no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning. This sets him apart from previous philosophers who thought there must be some connection between a signifier and the object it signifies. Saussure's insistence on the arbitrariness of the sign has also greatly influenced later philosophers, especially postmodern theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Jean Baudrillard. Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term semiologie while teaching his landmark "Course on General Linguistics" at the University of Geneva from 1906–1911 Saussure posited that no word is inherently meaningful. Rather a word is only a "signifier," i.e. the representation of something, and it must be combined in the brain with the "signified," or the thing itself, in order to form a meaning-imbued "sign." Saussure believed that dismantling signs was a real science, for in doing so we come to an empirical understanding of how humans synthesize physical stimuli into words and other abstract concepts.
Louis Trolle Hjelmslev
Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (1899–1965) developed a structuralist approach to Saussure's theories. His best known work is Prolegomena: A Theory of Language, which was expanded in Resumée of the Theory of Language, a formal development of glossematics, his scientific calculus of language.
Charles W. Morris
Charles W. Morris (1901–1979). In his 1938 Foundations of the Theory of Signs, he defined semiotics as grouping the triad syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Syntax studies the interrelation of the signs, without regard to meaning. Semantics studies the relation between the signs and the objects to which they apply. Pragmatics studies the relation between the sign system and its human (or animal) user. Unlike his mentor George Herbert Mead, Morris was a behaviorist and sympathetic to the Vienna Circle positivism of his colleague Rudolf Carnap. Morris has been accused of misreading Peirce.
Wikipedia says that "...Eco (1932–present) made a wider audience aware of semiotics by various publications, most notably A Theory of Semiotics and his novel, The Name of the Rose, which includes applied semiotic operations. His most important contributions to the field bear on interpretation, encyclopedia, and model reader. He has also criticized in several works (A theory of semiotics, La struttura assente, Le signe, La production de signes) the "iconism" or "iconic signs" (taken from Peirce's most famous triadic relation, based on indexes, icons, and symbols), to which he purposes four modes of sign production: recognition, ostension, replica, and invention..."
Algirdas Julius Greimas
Algirdas Julius Greimas developed a structural version of semiotics named generative semiotics, trying to shift the focus of discipline from signs to systems of signification. His theories develop the ideas of Saussure, Hjelmslev, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Thomas A. Sebeok
Thomas A. Sebeok, a student of Charles W. Morris, was a prolific and wide-ranging American semiotician. Though he insisted that animals are not capable of language, he expanded the purview of semiotics to include non-human signaling and communication systems, thus raising some of the issues addressed by philosophy of mind and coining the term zoosemiotics. Sebeok insisted that all communication was made possible by the relationship between an organism and the environment it lives in. He also posed the equation between semiosis (the activity of interpreting signs) and life.
Juri Lotman 1922–1993 was the founding member of the Tartu (or Tartu-Moscow) Semiotic School. He developed a semiotic approach to the study of culture and established a communication model for the study of text semiotics. He also introduced the concept of the semiosphere. Among his Moscow colleagues were Vladimir Toporov, Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, and Boris Uspensky.
Biosemiotics (from the Greek bios meaning "life" and semion meaning "sign") is a growing field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs in the biological realm. Biosemiotics attempt to integrate the findings of scientific biology and semiotics representing a paradigmatic shift in the occidental science' view of life, demonstrating that semiosis (sign process, including meaning and interpretation) is its immanent feature. The term "biosemiotic" was first used by Friedrich S. Rothschild in 1962, but Thomas Sebeok and Thure von Uexküll have done much to popularize the term and field.
Adapted from the Wikipedia article "Some important semioticians", under the Free Documentation License.