Semiotic Fitting and the Nativeness of Community


The concept of ‘semiotic fitting’ is what we provide as a model for the description and analysis of the diversity dynamics and nativeness in semiotic systems. One of its sources is the concept of ‘ecological fitting’ which was introduced by Daniel Janzen as the mechanism for the explanation of diversity in tropical ecosystems and which has been shown to work widely over the communities of various types. As different from the neo-Darwinian concept of fitness that describes reproductive success, ‘fitting’ describes functional (sign) relations and aboutness. Diversity of a semiotic system is strongly dependent on the mutual fitting of agents of which the semiotic system consists. The focus on semiotic fitting means that, in the analysis of diversity, we pay particular attention to decision making (choice), functional plasticity, recognition windows, the depth of interpretation of the agents, and the categories responsible for the structure of the semiotic system. The concept of semiotic fitting has an early analogue in Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of ‘Einpassung’ (as different from ‘Anpassung’, meaning ‘evolutionary adaptation’). The close concepts of ‘semiotic fitness’, introduced by Jesper Hoffmeyer and by Stéphanie Walsh Matthews, ‘semiotic selection’, introduced by Timo Maran and Karel Kleisner, and ‘semiotic niche’, introduced by Hoffmeyer, provide different versions of the same model. If community is constructing itself on the basis of (relational) fitting, then nativeness of the community is a product of fitting, not vice versa. Nativeness is a feature that deepens in the course of community succession. The concept of ‘semiotic fitting’ demonstrates the possibility to analyse the role of both indigenous and alien species or other agents in a community on the basis of a single model.

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  1. 1.

    The expression ‘set of species’ means in this article “the local set of organisms that belong to various species” (which is equivalent to ‘set of coenopopulations’).

  2. 2.

    I mean that sign relations (and codes) are preserved due to restorable mediators.

  3. 3.

    The same example with bruchid beetle (Bruchus pisorum) was used by Jakob von Uexküll when arguing for Einpassung (e.g., von Uexküll 1928: 219–220; 1957: 68–69). Janzen confirmed that he provided this example independently, as he had not read Uexküll (Kull 2018a).

  4. 4.

    However, in a stationary community, fitness is same in all species — one survivor per capita per generation, independently of population number.

  5. 5.

    Because “[…] genes are usually followers, not leaders, in evolutionary change” (West-Eberhard 2003: 29).

  6. 6.

    On a history of the concept, see Chew and Hamilton 2011.

  7. 7.

    A closed system (i.e. without immigration) in which evolutionary speciation would balance the species extinction should be rather large, e.g. seemingly over 105 km2 for vascular plants (this of course depends on the heterogeneity of the area). This is certainly much larger than the area of local communities.


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To Daniel Janzen, Riin Magnus, Timo Maran, Stéphanie Walsh Matthews, Terrence Deacon and Claudio J. Rodríguez Higuera for inspiring conversations. The work is a part of the project PRG314.

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Correspondence to Kalevi Kull.

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Kull, K. Semiotic Fitting and the Nativeness of Community. Biosemiotics 13, 9–19 (2020).

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  • Coevolution
  • Coexistence
  • Community
  • Consortia
  • Ecological fitting
  • Fitness