Semiotics and Biosemiotics

  • Paul Cobley
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 15)


Some of the cultural implications of biosemiotics are already inherent in semiotics. One of these is the ‘levelling of the playing field’ that semiotics effected. That is to say, in its interrogation of culture semiotics led the way in de-valorising all cultural artefacts, including those which have been said to have been born with, achieved or had greatness thrust upon them. Semiotics is a matter of understanding how sign systems – of all kinds – work. Originally, this endeavour was focused on culture: one of the key concepts of semiotics, invented concurrently by Roland Barthes (1977a) and Juri Lotman (1974) in the early 1960s, is ‘the text’ (Marrone 2014). Rather than a ‘work’, which indicates some higher purpose of an authorial genius, ‘the text’ indicates a fabric of devices designed through habitual sign use to reach a particular audience. Any collection of signs is a text and the concept was in the vanguard of the dismantling of the imaginary dividing line between so-called ‘high’ and popular culture. Thus, Literature (with a capital L) is still negotiating the cataclysm visited upon it by semiotics 50 years ago. For other fields and disciplines, semiotics has had similarly specific impacts. Linguistics, for example, has ceased to bury its head in the sand about ‘multimodality’. For the last 30 years, media and cultural studies embraced semiotics in the limited, but persistent, form of the ‘myth criticism’ that Barthes abandoned by 1971. Marketing and brand management has followed suit. Biology, perhaps, is currently bracing itself for the latest reorientation that semiotics affords. Most importantly, though, for the present argument, is semiotics’ part in the promotion of study across natural sign systems – including the cultural sign systems that are embedded in nature through the activities of humans.


Cultural Artefact Semiotic System Linguistic Sign Semiotic Process Cultural Implication 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Cobley
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Distinguished Visiting Professor, School of Foreign Languages and CulturesNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.President of the International Association for Semiotic Studies; and Professor in Language and Media, School of Media and Performing ArtsMiddlesex UniversityLondonUK

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