Semiotics – study of communication and signification

Semiotics may run the gamut between a scientific discipline and a world-view. But however it is construed, it always involves signs. The terms stems from the Greek word seemeiootikee, which denotes the study of signs, what they represent and signify, and how we act and think in their universe. Goethe, in his time, could view everything as a symbol. How much truer that is today, when more and more man-made signs and signals emanate from all quarters! Never before has there been so much communication in the world, thanks to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic means of transmitting messages. But do people also have more to say to each other? Semiotics is a discipline that bravely confronts such questions at the start of the new millennium.

Semiotics also refers to a millennia-old tradition of thought. Everyone knows Umberto Eco´s novels, which take us back to the Middle Ages. The philosophers of antiquity and the Church fathers, too, investigated the laws of signs that rule over the world. Participating in semiotics iis an intellectual adventure wherein individuals are interpreted as signs, both to themselves and to others. Biologist today claim that every living organism functions as a sign system in relation to the environment. Thus the verbal signs of spoken and written language – texts- no longer form the main concern of semioticians, who have widened their vision to include the non-verbal activities of people and animals.

Much of the power of semiotic enterprise lies in its phenomenal ability to adapt to various changes od scientific paradigms and technological innovations, trends and schools of thinking, and even national traditions. Semiotics, which became an independent discipline in the 1960s when the international associations and publishing series were launched, has since expanded to all countries of the world and undergone several radical metamorphoses.

The so-called "classical" tradition of semiotics includes great structuralist scholars from the latter half of twentieth century, such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Umberto Eco, A.J. Greimas, Juri Lotman (founder of the Tartu School of Semiotics), Thomas A. Sebeok, Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault. Yet many of them owed great intellectual debts to nineteenth-century pioneers of semiotics like Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), the American philosopher and mathematician, and Ferdinand de Saussure (1857.1913), the Swiss linguist. In a prophetic declaration, the latter claimed that no one yet knew what "semiology" would be, but that its place was "staked out in advance".

We can echo that statement today: since semiotics has entered its poststucturalist phase – with the writtenings of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and the others – and become the method and philosophy of the postmodern era, no one knows what semiotics of the twenty-first century will be. But we do know that it will continue to influence humankind’s relationship to this changing world.

Semiotics – the science of the new millennium

In the world of the future, semiotics will be increasingly needed to address various problems of an information society dominated by the progress of technology and science. It provides us the tools by which to look critically at the media world. In the true spirit of interdisciplinary, semiotics crosses over the fixed boundaries of academic research. Already it is taught at schools, as Charles Morris predicted fifty years ago. In the latter half of the twentieth century, semiotics has become and intrinsic part of curricula and research all over the world, and its concepts and ideas have been adopted by the most varied scholars and institutions. The tools od semiotics, however, must be continuously developed and re-shaped for the new research problems of the future. For this the role of such places as the ISI at Imatra, a major center of learning and education in the field, will become crucial.