Suomen Semiotica

Like kinship studies, semiotics can encompass vastly different sorts of analysis and description. Both veer between the logical and literary, sometimes in competing schools, sometimes across the corpus of the same writer, and sometimes in the very same text (e.g., The Elementary Structures of Kinship). Compare Barthes and Greimas. Anthropologists of kinship can get caught up in a severe (rigorous or obscure) formalism, although the sort of analysis that yielded insights from the imaginative working out of the permutations of structure(s) has been out of favor for a while — as we keep hearing. Analysis of kinship often relies on a special technical vocabulary that many anthropologists of my generation (educated in the 1990s) have not mastered (quick: what’s the difference between ‘descent’ and ‘filiation’?).

Likewise, semiotics can be tough-going for the uninitiated. Fortunately, philosophers at Helsinki University have put together a dictionary of one of the founding fathers of semiology, C. S. Peirce. Their handy site is copiously citationed and nicely put together. Readers thumbing through the pages of Fame of Gawa, for example, might find some of the entries convenient:

“As it is in itself, a sign is either of the nature of an appearance, when I call it a qualisign; or secondly, it is an individual object or event, when I call it a sinsign (the syllable sin being the first sillable [sic] of semel, simul, singular, etc); or thirdly, it is of the nature of a general type, when I call it a legisign.” (A Letter to Lady Welby, SS 32, 1904)

“… a Qualisign is any quality in so far as it is a sign. Since a quality is whatever it is positively in itself, a quality can only denote an object by virtue of some common ingredient or similarity; so that a Qualisign is necessarily an Icon. Further, since a quality is a mere logical possibility, it can only be interpreted as a sign of essence, that is, as a Rheme.” (‘A Syllabus of Certain Topics of Logic’, EP 2:294, 1903)

2 thoughts on “Suomen Semiotica

  1. What a great site. I like that they put this in:

    “Abduction is no more nor less than guessing, a faculty attributed to Yankees.”

    Use that next time you want to discredit someone educated in the Northern states.

  2. Thanks. An amazing resource.

    For those interested in reading more on Peirce, I highly recommend:

    Lee, Benjamin. Talking Heads: Language, Metalanguage, and the Semiotics of Subjectivity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

    It contains one of the most lucid and complete descriptions I’ve ever of Peirce’s semiotics and why it is important.

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