SILVER RATTASEPP and KALEVI KULL
University of Tartu, Estonia
Contemporary usage of the term “semiotics” is derived from John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), which presents the requirement for a science that would study the “signs the mind makes use of' in acquiring knowledge. However, the concept semeiotics also existed in Greek, to denote the study of medical symptoms and “natural signs.” The key difference with latter development of semiotics is the absence, in Greek thought, of a notion of sign that would be applicable beyond the nature-culture binary. Such a general notion of signs was introduced by Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Nevertheless, it was not until the late nineteenth century that semiotics began to develop as a separate branch of the sciences. The two leading figures and founders of contemporary semiotics were Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) and especially Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913); the posthumous publication in 1916 of the latter's Cours de linguistique générale (Course in General Linguistics) laid the groundwork for much of twentieth-century semiotics in the West.
De Saussure proposed a science of semiology to cover the study of all arbitrary sign relations, which would be patterned after linguistic signs. He posited a dyadic or binary model for semiological analysis, consisting of linguistic terms, called “signifiers,” and their conventional relation to cognitive states, called “signifieds.” ...