The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

By Paul Cobley | Go to book overview

3
UMWELT AND MODELLING

KALEVI KULL


INTRODUCTION

Semiotics is a study of semioses, or sign processes. Since any sign is about something, it follows that semiotics includes a study of all forms of awareness both conscious and non-conscious. Since being aware always assumes memory as its necessary component, and vice versa, since memory always stores information about something, we can also say that semiotics extends to all processes where memory is involved. As far as all living systems, including all cells, have at least some sort of memory, the life processes that make use of it should be studied on the basis of semiotics (Emmeche et al. 2002).

Umwelt1 is the self-centred world of an organism – the world in which an organism lives, the one that it recognizes and makes. This concept was introduced as a scientific matter by Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) and became widely used and further developed in semiotics, anthropology, philosophy and elsewhere, especially since the late 1970s (Sebeok 1979b; Ingold 2000; Deely 2001a; etc.).2

As Sebeok has pointed out in regard to the scientific use of the term ‘Umwelt’, ‘the closest equivalent in English is manifestly “model”’ (Sebeok 2001c: 75). Description of somebody’s Umwelt will mean the demonstration of how the organism (via its Innenwelt) maps the world, and what, for that organism, the meanings of the objects are within it. Therefore, semiosic systems are simultaneously modelling systems, as was emphasized already in the 1960s by the Tartu–Moscow School (Lotman 1967; Levchenko and Salupere 1999). Anderson and Merrell (1991a: 4) argue that ‘signs, especially those of diagrams, metaphors, and images – hypoicons (CP 2.276) – are themselves models, and semiosis constitutes modeling, par excellence’. Modelling systems include both

1 Umwelt

(plural Umwelten ) – this word of German origin is now a word of English vocabulary, according to the British English version of the New Oxford American Dictionary (currently as a built-in software component in Apple computers). Initially, the word ‘Umwelt’ was constructed as a neologism by the Danish-German poet Jens Immanuel Baggesen in 1800, and became common in German, among other things due to its usage by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (see Sutrop 2001; Chien 2007). While denoting ‘environment’ in contemporary everyday German, it is a technical term in academic English-language usage.

2 Some English translations of Uexküll’s works have also appeared in the journal Semiotica (Uexküll 1982, 1992, 2001a, 2001b); special volumes devoted to Uexküll were published in Semiotica, Vol. 134 (2001), and Sign Systems Studies, Vol. 32 (2004). See also Hoffmeyer (1996); Kull (2001); Sharov (2001) and Lotman (2003).

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The Routledge Companion to Semiotics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Routledge Companion to Semiotics i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • Using This Book xix
  • Part I- Understanding Semiotics 1
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Ancient Semiotics 13
  • 2 - Semiotics of Nature 29
  • 3 - Umwelt and Modelling 43
  • 4 - Logic and Cognition 57
  • 5 - Realism and Epistemology 74
  • 6 - Peirce, Phenomenology and Semiotics 89
  • 7 - The Saussurean Heritage 101
  • 8 - Sociosemiotics 118
  • 9 - Semiotics of Media and Culture 135
  • 10 - Semioethics 150
  • Part II - Key Themes and Major Figures in Semiotics 163
  • References 359
  • Index 389
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