Content: Introduction Who is Thomas Albert Sebeok? Main

 Introduction
 1. Who is Thomas Albert Sebeok?
2. Main Contributions to the Field of Semiotics
2.1. Exposing the Pars-Pro-Toto Fallacy of Semiology
2.2. Distinguishing Between Language and Communication
2.3. Contributing to Biosemiotics
2.4. Contributing to Zoosemiotics
2.5. Contributing to Linguistics Proper
 Bibliography
 Semiotics is a field of study that involves many different
theoretical stances and methodological tools. It studies how
signs make meanings.
 Semiotics is also concerned with both communication and the
construction and maintenance of reality.
 A sign is something which stands to somebody for something
in some respect or capacity. It has been mainly studied by two
prominent figures: the French Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure
and American Semiotician Charles S.Peirce.
 Saussure offered a dyadic model of a sign (semiology).
 Yet, Peirce has elaborated a triadic model, that is, the interaction
between the representamen, the object and interpretant (semiosis).
 For him, a sign comprises of a representamen, an object and an
 meaning can be only found in a genuine triadic relation between the
object- as instance firstness, the representamen- as an instance of
secondness and the interpretant - as an instance of thirdness.
 The power of Peirce’s theory has a great impact on many researchers
and semioticians among them Thomas Sebeok who greatly contributed
to the field of semiotics.
 Who is Sebeok?
1. Who is Thomas Albert Sebeok?
 Thomas Albert Sebeok was born in Budapest, Hungary, on November 9,
 He was an American semiotician and linguist and a main founder of
biosemiotics.( Kelevi, 2003).
 In the 1960s, Sebeok studied human communication both verbal and non-
verbal signs and animal communication .
 Indeed, he broadened the definition of semiotics beyond human language
and culture to encompass human nonverbal communication as well as
communication in all living organisms and sign processes within organisms.
 Sebeok was the founder and chief editor of the journal
“Semiotica” ( Watt, 2006)
 Also, he has written and published a series of books, such as Contributions
to the Doctrine of Signs(1976), The Sign and its Masters (1979), The Play of
Musement ( 1981), I think I A m a Verb( 1986), A Sign Is Just a Sign(
1991), Semiotics in the United States(1991), Global Semiotics (2001)
 Sebeok has greatly contributed to the field of semiotics and he was the
father of biosemiotics.
2. Thomas Albert Sebeok’ s Contributions
to the Field of Semiotics
 Sebeok’s scholarly contributions emphasize the crucial
importance of Peirce’s thought to develop his transdisciplinary
semiotic paradigm.
 Indeed, he tried to extend and clarify the thought of Peirce
since it is too difficult and ambiguous.
2.1.Exposing the Pars-Pro-Toto Fallacy of
 One of Sebeok’s major contributions was an exposing of the part-for-whole
(pars-pro-toto ) fallacy that was inherented from Saussure’s theory of signs
known as “semiology”, that is, Saussure’s science of signs.
 Saussure offered a dyadic model of signs.
 Understanding a word is to make a genuine relationship, known as signification.
 For Sausuure, a sign is arbitrary and conventional
 Yet, for Peirce, semiotics is as a "Doctrine of Signs’” (Deely, 1982:127-130).
 He offered a triadic model of signs.
 Sebeok affirms that “The world is composed entirely of signs “(Sebeok
1990b: 391).
 He states that “the scope of semiotics encompasses ……the entirety of our
planetary biosphere,” adding that semiosis “must be recognized as a
pervasive fact of nature as well as of culture” (Sebeok 1977:180-183).
 For Sebeok, a sign is any physical form, that is, a referent or a referential
 The sign science includes not only the study of communication in culture,
but also the study of communicative behavior of a biosemiotics.
2.2.Distinguishing Between Language and
 A language is a system of signs that express ideas and thoughts, that
is, verbal semiosis and representation.
 Communication is a capacity to participate with other organisms in
the reception and processing of specific kinds of signals.
 Sebeok made an important distinction between communication in
general and language as a modelling system that enables a humanspecific mode of communication in particular (Deely, 2010).
 For Sebeok, language emerged as an evolutionary adaptation over two million
years ago.
 Speech is a paramount linear display of language in the vocal-auditory mode.
 He has defined a language as:
“Weeping study of signs and systems of signs, whether verbal or nonverbal,
demands both synchronic approaches (structural as well as functional) and an
application of diachronic perspectives(developmental or ontogenetic), and
evolutionary or phylogenetic” ( Sebeok, 1979& 1985).
 Language evolved as a sophisticated modelling device.
 Nonverbal acoustic messages - with or without speech – can be
conveyed through inanimate figures, such as puppets or marionettes.
 According to Sebeok, nonverbal communication is one of the main
targets of a biological study of semiosis.
2.3. Contributing to Biosemiotics
 Biosemiotics comes from the Greek word” bios” meaning
“life” and “semeion” meaning” sign”.
 It is a field that studies the production, action and interpretation
of signs and codes in the biological realm (Barbieri, 2008).
 Sebeok is considered as the founder father of biosemiotics.
 A biosemiotic aim is not only to emphasize on the relation
between biology and semiotics, but also to profound a change
of perspective implied when life is considered mainly as signs
conveyed and interpreted by other living signs.
 For Sebeok, the literature of biosemiotics distinguishes among phyto, cyto,
and zoosemiotics.
 The latter comprises a marked branch, anthroposemiotics.
 These distinctions correspond to the standard classification of eukaryotic
multicellular organisms into the plant, fungus, and animal super-kingdoms.
 The plant-animal-fungus trichotomy is based on the manifold but
complementary nutritional pattern of each group.
 Therefore, at bottom of a semiotic taxonomy, plants are producers, animals
are transformers. Fungi are decomposers.
2.4. Contributing to Zoosemiotics
 The term “zoosemiotics” was coined in 1963 by the
American Semiotician Thomas Sebeok.
 It comes from the Greek word “Zoion” meaning animal plus
semiotics to refer to the study of animal communication
 It is “the science of signs intersects with ethology, devoted to
the scientific study of signaling behavior in and across
animal species” (Sebeok, 1972: 61).
 In 1963, Sebeok had extended a theory of meaning to
designate processes among the speechless creatures
(Sebeok, 1 972a: 80).
 In 1968, he had established the term "anthroposemiotics"
to study the human use of signs.
 The terms phytosemiotics, zoosemiotics and
anthroposemiotics correspond to the traditional division of
living nature into plants, animals, and humans.
2.5.Contributing to Linguistics Proper
 According to Sebeok, linguistics is a structurally rather than
functionally autonomous branch of semiotics.
 It encompasses a wide variety of nonverbal systems of
signification and communication.
 The mutual relationship between semiotics and linguistics,
for Sebeok, is to be conceived as either coordinate or
 Semiotics was created from linguistics and it remains to be done
even that linguistics is already well advanced.
 The subject matter of semiotics is often the exchange of any
messages whatever the system of signs (Sebeok, 1985: 1).
 A message is a string of signs.
 A distinction can be made between nonverbal signs versus verbal
 This difference places semiotics in a superordinate position over
both linguistics and other putative disciplines.
 Thomas Sebeok has worked over a number of decades to
advance a semiotic perspective on animal behavior and
 His cutting- edge interdisciplinary combination of ethology
and semiotics offered him a great advance beyond the dogmas
of mechanomophism in understanding of nonhuman animals as
active and experiencing creatures.
 Sebeok is considered as the founder father of biosemiotics and a chair
emeritus of the Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies.
 He was a professor emeritus of linguistics, semiotics, anthropology,
folklore, and Uralic and Altaic studies.
 His research interests included topics in general and applied semiotics,
among them the relationship between semiotics and cognitive science.
 Finally, I think that Sebeok had greatly contributed to the field of
 Abraham, M, H. (1966) Isomorphic interrelationships between knower and
known.In G. Kepes (ed.), Sign, image, symbol, 195-206. New York: Braziller.
Anderson, M. (2003) Thomas Albert Sebeok. American Anthropologist Barbieri,
M.( 2008)” Biosemiotics”: a New Understanding of Life, Naturwissenschaften,
Vol.95, Issue.7
Brier, S. (2003) “Thomas Sebeok”: Mister (Bio) semiotics An obituary for
Thomas A. Sebeok. Cybernetics & Human Knowing
Cobley, P., John, D., Kalevi, K.,and Susan, P. (eds.) (2011) “Semiotics Continues
to Astonish”: Thomas A. Sebeok and the Doctrine of Signs. Berlin: De Gruyter
Sebeok, T, A. (1986) ” I think I am a verb”: More contributions to the doctrine
of signs. NewYork: Plenum.
Watt, W. (2006). “Thomas A. Sebeok”: In memoriam Semiotica, Issue, 1-525.
Retrieved 2 Mar. 2012
 Sebeok, T, A. (1983) “One, two, three spells U B E R T Y” in Eco, U. & Sebeok,T,A.
(eds.), The sign of three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Sebeok, T, A. (1984)“Communication Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia. Columbus,
Ohio”: Battelle Memorial Institute, Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation.
 Sebeok, T, A. (1991) Semiotics in the United States. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity
 Kelevi , K. (2003) “Thomas A. Sebeok and biology”: Building biosemiotics. Cybernetics
and Human Knowing
 Sebeok, T, A. (1993) Preface, in Brent. J, Charles Sanders Peirce: A life, Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
 Sebeok, T, A. and Jean, U,S. (1980)” You know my method” : A juxtaposition of Charles
S. Peirce and Sherlock Holmes. Bloomington: Gaslight Publications.