SEMIOSIS (from Greek σημείωσις, sēmeíōsis “marking”) – a process of using a sign (e.g. a linguistic sign) to denote an object, during which a system of relations between the object, the concept and the sign is established. In other words, semiosis is a process involving an entity that operates as a sign.

According to Ch. S. Peirce, semiosis can be characterized as dynamic, subjective,  interdeterminate and universal. J. M. Lotman and U. Eco add endlessness and totality to these characteristics.

There are various theories of semiosis. The general semiotic theory is based on the hierarchy of semiotic systems, with the lower level systems being subordinate to the upper level systems. The following levels of semiosis can be distinguished: physiosemiosis (in the inanimate world), biosemiosis, which includes phytosemiosis (in the world of plants) and zoosemiosis (in the animal world), and anthroposemiosis (in the culture and history of human society). The general notion of semiosis was developed by J. Uexküll in his theory of the inner and outer worlds of biological entities, by T. Sebeok in the theory of global semiotics and symptoms, by J.Deely in the theory of the semiotic animal (see also the works by M.J. Fish, M. Krampen, F.S. Petrilli, A. Ponzio, J. Johansen, etc.). The stages of semiosis include the initial formation of  natural signs in biosemiotics as a result of a simple reaction of an organism to a stimulus.  Later, at the anthroposemiotic level, the artificial signs appear, for example signs of arts, music, and language. An artificial sign is characterized by endless interpretations due to the multiple representations of an object in the individual or ethnic world views,  

The ideas about different types of signs gave rise to various models of semiosis,  such as the triadic model by Ch.S.Peirce, the five-part model by Ch.Morris, the four-part model by K.L. Bühler, the models of the metalingual representation of semiosis and of secondary semiosis by R.O. Jakobson, the model of total semiosis and the dynamic model of semiotization by J. M. Lotman (everything in this world is to be semiotized), and the model of unlimited semiosis by U. Eco.

The most well-known model was introduced by Ch.S. Peirce. He examines the relations between the Interpretant (rheme, opinion, argument), the Object (an icon, an index, a symbol) and the Sign-Vehicles (a qualisign, a sinsign and a legisign). Ch. Morris adds two more components: the Interpreter and the Context. K.L. Bühler extends the semiotic and pragmatic aspects, differentiating between four components of semiosis: speech activity, speech act, linguistic product and linguistic structure.

Further reading

Deely J. Four ages of understanding. The first postmodern history of philosophy from ancient times to the turn of the 21st century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

New directions in linguistics and semiotics. James E. Copeland (ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1984.

Sebeok T. Global semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Semiotica. Journal of the International Association for semiotic studies. Berlin, NY.: Mouton de Gruyter. 1969-2013.

Maria Kiose

Translated by Nastya Kotseruba