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Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

Number 16_ Summer 2003


Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities
Number 16_ Summer 2003
ASEAN Female Writers/Dramatists
/
Mohammad A. QUAYUM

Shirley Geok-lin Lim: An Interview

01

Mohammad A. QUAYUM

Nation, Gender, Identity: Shirley Geok-lin


Lims Joss and Gold

15

FENG Pin-chia

Shirley Geok-lin Lims Joss and Gold

33

WONG Soak Koon

Intervening into the Narrative of Nation:


Che Husna Azharis Kelantan Tales

49

Catherine DIAMOND

Dominating Women: Vietnamese and Thai


Female Dramatists in Creative Control

47

__________________________________

Mihhail LOTMAN
61

Peirce,

Saussure

and

the

Foundations

of

Semiotics

Joachim von der THSEN

Painting the Vesuvius: Developments in


Eighteenth-Century Landscape Art

61

__________________________________

BOOK REVIEW
CHIANG Shu-chen

The Merlion and the Hibiscus by Mukherjee,


Singh, and Quayum (eds.) AND
Singaporean Literature in English by Quayum
and Wicks (eds.).

73

PEIRCE, SAUSSURE AND THE


FOUNDATIONS OF SEMIOTICS*
Mihhail Lotman
Estonian Institute of Humanities
Tartu University

The present paper has two aims. On the one hand, I would like to treat some
problems concerning the theoretical foundations of semiotics. On the other hand, it is
an attempt to avoid the regular semiotic discourse, the usual way of semiotic
conceptualization. Therefore, this paper has, in a way, a provocative purpose. I
would like to turn to some circumstances which are most certainly well known and
treat them, so to say, from the profane angle. We have a habit to use certain
metalanguages and formulations which form a firm and, seemingly, self-evident
system. But sometimes it is efficient to break this pattern, since there is a danger that
these formulations not only help to solve these problems, but also hide, even
substitute them.
Let me start with something which seems to be irrelevant not only to our theme,
but which concerns semiotics only accidentally. Once I had a rather tense discussion
with a philosopher. He started in a quite offensive manner: I dont like semiotics.
Because, he added, I dont know what it is. I tried to turn it into a joke and said
that this is indeed a good reason for disliking. But it soon turned out that his not
knowing was purely rhetorical and he knew, for example, Peirce better than me.
The reason for his dislike lay elsewhere: according to him, semiotics invades the field
of philosophy and usurps the very subject of philosophical investigation: everything
concerning the production of signs belongs to the sphere of analytical philosophy, the
usage of signs to the sphere of hermeneutics. Nice try, I said. Searching for ones
object is a problem of philosophy rather than that of semiotics. Philosophy, which
has pried into all the possible fields of knowledge during its whole history and has
been kicked out of everywhere (at first it was kicked out of physics and other
sciences, but in the twentieth century also from the humanities 1 ), is now trying to
annex the field of signs.
*

First version of this paper presented as a lecture at the International Summer School of
Semiotics in Imatra (Finland) on June 12, 2002.
1 . At the same time, we can observe a reverse process as well: the philosophization of
humanities which, in turn, does not evoke enthusiasm in philosophers, since it leaves them
again without their subject.

Received: March 27, 2003 / Accepted: Sept. 12, 2003


Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities 16 (Summer 2003):77-88

In this respect, semiotics seems to have quite strong positions, both in theory
and in practice. Unlike philosophy, semiotics has a firm empirical basis and semiotic
theory is strongly connected with this basis. Something like that I said then to the
philosopher. But later, when I thought it over, I was not so sure any more in the
firmness of my position. The expression semiotics deals with signs is almost a
tautological truism. The question is, what is a sign? Semioticians refer with an
incomprehensible pride to more than eighty definitions of sign by Peirce. 2 We can
add to them a couple of dozens definitions by other scholars. As I will demonstrate
below, the fact that Peirce had so many different definitions of sign and that during
his whole life he constantly returned to redefining it, shows that he was not satisfied
with any of those. And even nowadays we can successfully manipulate signs,
classify them, etc, but the problem of the essence of signs has as little clarity as it had
in Peirces lifetime. What has been said is not confusing. To a certain extent it
paralyzes the development of semiotics. Most semiotical studies are, so to say,
handicapped (I mean, more in a sportive than in a medical sense): we can successfully
manipulate signs, but only if the sphere of signs is predetermined, both
synchronically and diachronically. We can deal with given signs, but we dont know
their origin; in discussing how signs became signs, we have to exit semiotics and
appeal to other fields of knowledge, such as history and biology.
We can indeed speak of the progress of semiotics in the description of
empirically given semiotic systems, but there is no progress in exploring the essence
of semiosis. Here we are as far as Peirce; however, without his optimism. Therefore,
we have nothing to be proud of in front of the philosophers. Like philosophy,
semiotics is cursed to return constantly, searching for its foundations and sources.
Below I will not attempt to solve any problems of foundations of semiotics,
rather I will try in Peircean spirit to cleanse the ground and make a few steps that
seem to be useful.

The First Step. Peirce and Saussure: A Total


Incomparability
When we observe the development of semiotic studies during the last fifty years, on
the one hand, we cannot disregard the enormous amount of practical researches,
processing of a great bulk of material, but neither can we disregard an obvious
stagnation in the sphere of semiotic theory. Moreover, when we compare the present
situation with that of the beginning of the twentieth century, the theory of semiotics
seems to face now even bigger obstacles. Peirces outstanding contribution to the
clarification of the nature of semiosis and systematizing the types of signs and
Saussures prophetic intuitions in semiology did not yet meet with actual material,
which not only resists given approaches, but to a certain extent even contradicts them.
The situation is even more complicated by the fact that schools which pursue their
activities under the general heading of semiotics differ from each other not in details,
but in their basics and it is almost impossible to find a compromise or a common part
between them. Above all, we should distinguish the Peircean and Saussurean
2

Cf. Robert Marty, 76 definitions du signe relevees dans les ecrits de C. S. Peirce and Alfred
Lang, 12 Further Definitions.
Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_78

traditions. At first sight it seems that the contributions of the above-mentioned


scholars are not comparable to one another at all. Against Peirces detailed, accurate
and, last, but not least, extremely capacious treatment of signs we could counterpoise
a few dozen of pages of Saussures quite vague lines of thoughts, which, moreover,
sometimes contradict one another.
Peirces approach to signs could be called atomistic (cf. Lotman 2002). In the
center of attention there is a (single) sign. From the standpoint of the Peircean
semiotics, the sign is elementary and, semiotically, the smallest element. Since the
whole construction of semiotics depends on what a sign is, he paid so much attention
to the exact description of the sign. There are more than ninety definitions of the sign
in Peirces works which, in essence, are all variations on the same theme. The most
famous of them is the following:
A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for
something in some respect or capacity. (2, 228)
Although this definition is purely relativistic (the sign is formed by the system
of relations), nevertheless, it is semiotically an elementary object; it does not consist
of any smaller components. I would like to emphasize that I mean namely semiotical,
not, for example, physical elementarity. Since sign is any object (something), then it
can have quite a complicated structure, but, semiotically, it is still elementary, it does
not consist of smaller semiotically relevant components. Single signs constitute
complex signs, expressions which in sum form a language. When, for example,
Noam Chomsky defined language as a complex of grammatically correct sentences
(Chomsky 1957), then, without referring to Peirce, he proceeded from the same point
of view. An utterance as well as a language as a whole are in comparison with a
single sign secondary and a lot more complicated objects. For instance, in generative
grammar and studies close to this approach language is defined in the following way:
L = {A, G}, where A is alphabete or lexicon A = {a 1 , a 2 , , a n } and G is grammar or
the set of rules G = {r 1 , r 2 , , r m }. Hence, a lexicon, which we could conceive, for
example, in the case of a natural language, as a scope of linguistic signs, is closed and
primary, while a language as a whole is open and secondary. Therefore, we should
not wonder that for Peirce, language is in comparison with sign a far less important
phenomenon: the correct description of sign guarantees the correct description of
language.
Such treatment seems to be simple and logical. When we now turn to Saussure,
then we notice a completely different and strange logic. For Saussure, the isolated
sign does not exist at all. From his view-point the whole scheme of Peirces
semiotics is incorrect, a sign is formed not by its relation with an object or a user of
sign, but with other signs which belong to the same sign system. Here we are dealing
with an obvious paradox. The precondition of signs are other signs, a sign system, a
language to where it belongs. Peirces single sign is something clear and accurately
defined, while language, being formed of signs, is in a way an indefinite formation, at
least a lot more complicated than sign. For Saussure, it is vice versa: language is a
primary reality, with the clear structure which is divided into single signs with not so
clear or elementary nature. Up to now, this fundamental fact that for Peirce and
Saussure, one and the same word sign designates completely different objects, has
79_Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

not been explicitly pointed out. For Peirce, a sign is a concrete object, a substitute
which replaces another concrete object (I would rather not get into an argument now
whether such a sign as abstract is concrete or not; it is enough to point out that, in
my opinion, we are dealing in such cases both with concrete objects and concrete
signs), while for Saussure, a sign is an abstract object which is realized in a concrete
substance, and, what is most interesting, this realization in a way compromises its
semiotic nature: the sign realized in speech is not trully a sign any more.
As it is known, Saussure divides the sphere of language (langage) into
language itself (langue) and speech (parole). In such distinction two circumstances
seem to be most important. First, language is an abstract system which is primary
with regard to speech. Language is represented in speech, whereby what is
linguistically relevant in the latter is only how and to what extent it realizes the
structure of language. 3 Secondly, only language (and not speech) constitutes a sign
system. The latter seems to be especially paradoxical: the speech signals (not only
the single sounds, but full sentences as well) which are said and sensed are not signs
by themselves, they only represent signs of language. This can be expressed with the
following scheme:

langue

arole

signified

thought

signifier

acoustic (graphic)
matter

For Saussure, there is no direct connection between the conceptual sphere and
the voiced speech, between thought and acoustic matter, they are only related to each
other indirectly, due to the fact that they both realize signs of language. The central
part in this scheme belongs to the relationship which connects the signifier and the
signified of a sign (later Louis Hjelmslev calls this relationship the sign function).
Although usually there is no treatment of semiosis in the Saussurean tradition and this
term is not in use, we could still say that namely the sign function is the basis for the
formation of sign (i.e., semiosis). Hence, differently from that of Peirce, Saussures
sign is, first, abstract and, secondly, complex. The central problem of Saussures
semiotics is the relationship between the signifier and the signified.

3. Saussure emphasizes it categorically: As for all the other elements of speech activity, then
linguistics could completely do without them (Saussure 1982: 31).
Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_80

To characterize the relationship between the signifier and the signified,


Saussure offers the following scheme:

signified
signifier

Saussure emphasizes two things: first, the symmetry of the signifier and the
signified and that one cannot exist without another, and secondly, the arbitrarity of
their relationship. It seems that here we are dealing with an obvious contradiction.
On the one hand, the sign of language is something certain, being determined by the
system of language; on the other hand, the relationship between the components of
sign is fully optional, arbitrary. To solve this dilemma, Saussure distinguishes
meaning and value (valeur). Arbitrarity characterizes the meaning of the sign, and
the absolute determination characterizes the value of it. Meaning arises from the
relationship between the signifier and signified, value characterizes the position of an
element in a system, that is, value is the complex of all the internal connections of the
given element in the given sign system. To illustrate this statement, Saussure offers
the following schema:

signified
.

signified

signified

signifier

signifier

signifier

At the same time, Saussure emphasizes that the relations which connect
different signs differ, in principle, from those which create the correspondence
between the signifier and the signified: the relations which connect signs have
determinative nature. The most problematical is here the linear alignment of signs.
Probably we should not pay too much attention to it, since, obviously, we are dealing
with the inertia of the linearity of speech.
Hence, unlike Peirce, for Saussure the proceeding-point is language and its
structure which, to his mind, are fully clear and fixed, while the single elements of
language, including the question of the sign of language, are problematical. While
we called the Peircean approach to semiotics atomistic, then the Saussurean approach
81_Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

should be called holistic. The subsequent studies in the sphere of the semiotics of
language showed that the Saussurean approach, regardless of its above-discussed
paradoxicality, appears to be far more powerful and productive. One of the examples
is the problem of meaning of grammatical categories. It is especially remarkable that
the contemporary formulation to this problem was given by an outstanding American
linguist Edward Sapir (1921), who, as it is known, was not a direct follower of
Saussure. Nevertheless, his conception of grammatical categories which is not a bulk
of occasional indicators, but a certain system characteristic to every given language
has been developed in the Saussurean, that is, in the holistic spirit. The complex of
grammatical categories is one of the most important parameters of the description of
language. It is individual for every language and what functions as a grammatical
category in one language does not have to do so in another language. For instance, in
comparison with Indo-European languages the Estonian language lacks the
categories of grammatical gender or future tense. This lacking cannot be explained
in Peircean terms through the relationship between the object and interpreter of sign,
it is a parameter which characerizes the Estonian language as a whole. This lacking
can be discovered only if we compare the Estonian language as a whole with some
other language.
At the same time, Sapir shows the semiotic nature of grammatical categories.
These are not only the schemes of conjugation or declination, but the conceptual
network with which language creates its own world-view. It is a very important fact:
at least part of the signs of language are not given in advance, but at the same time
they are not an open amount, as, for example, words in a lexicon; grammatical
categories are the signs which clearly represent the Saussurean valeur.
Proceeding from his idea of sign, Peirce creates a rather complicated typology
of sign, of which the most important part constitutes what he himself calls the second
trichotomy of sign: the iconic, indexical and symbolic signs. The basis of this
classification is the nature of connections between signs and objects signified by them.
When we approach this problem in the Saussurean spirit, we must mention that what
is discussed by Peirce characterizes not language but speech; the signs of language, in
Saussures opinion, are of the same type. As was pointed out by Jerzy Pelc (1986) in
a paper exclusively devoted to this problem, when we speak of iconic signs, it would
be more correct to speak of the iconical usage of a sign, that is,, iconicity evolves
only in speech, not in language. Proceeding from the analysis of language by Charles
Bally and especially by Emile Benveniste, we could most certainly assert that the
same applies to the indexical signs as well: there is no indexicality in language. It
evolves in speech, in every certain speech act. But it would be inconsiderate to
conclude, as does, for example, Roman Jakobson, that only symbolic signs can be
found in language, since symbolic signs can not exist without icons and indexes.
What I intend to say, is that all the Peircean types of signs characterize only speech,
while the signs of language are based on a principally different logic, which is
grounded on the values of sign, not on its connections with objects.
Saussures followershere I mean above all the Prague Linguistic Circle, but
also Emile Benveniste, Roman Jakobson and Claude Lvi-Strauss, as well as the
representatives of the Tartu-Moscow semiotic schoolso-to-say rehabilitate speech.
First, it turned out, that speech has also a semiotic nature, andwhat is especially
important for us, this nature is not an automatic consequence of realization of the
Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_82

system of language. Emile Benveniste emphasizes that speech has its own semiotic
qualities that are not derived from language. Secondly, speech can also be a closed
and stable system. Such system was to be called text. Lvi-Strauss analyzed the
ritual and mythological text in the way Nikolai Trubetzkoy analyses the phonological
system of language. In the case of artistic text, Tartu-Moscow semiotic school has
achieved analogical results. Hence, text is an immanent system, the elements of text
form a structure and every element of text has its own certain value.

The Second Step. Peirce and Saussure: Some Important


Similarities
An important difference between Peirce and Saussure is that Saussures extremely
paradoxical conception of sign was obviously fully satisfactory for him, while for
Peirce his completely normal and intuitively comprehensible conception of sign
demanded constant specifying definitions, none of which probably satisfied him. I
quoted Peirces most famous definition of sign (2, 228), but it has to be mentioned
that this definition is rather exceptional in Peircean heritage, because this definition
consists of four components. Usually Peirce divides everything into three parts.
The difference between Saussurean and Peircean styles of presentation is
remarkable. Saussure offers a finished product, his ideas are born like Athena from
Zeuss headwhole and ripe. Of course, his ideas also developed (different draftings
of his Course demonstrate it clearly), but his style of presentation was always the
same. For Peirce, on the other hand, it is very important to take the reader into his
way of reasoning and this way of reasoning is no less important to him than the final
result to which it leads. Unlike Saussure, Peirce constantly appeals to readers, their
experience and ability to make conclusions. To a certain extent this correlates the
Peircean and Saussurean world-view, their philosophical bases. Saussure was a
Platonist and his langue, structure, and valeur are Platonic ideas. Ideas cannot be
defined, there can be no introduction to them, they can only be grasped, perceived,
recognized. Saussures texts can be treated as a row of hints and allusions which help
to catch the ideas. Peirce, the non-orthodoxical pragmatist, proceeds from the standpoint that one can reach truth only through practice.
Peirce treats signs in the frames of his phenomenology (he himself calls it
phaneroscopy). Here it should be noted that Peirces phenomenology has no relation
whatsoever to that of Husserl, as he proceeds from Hegel. The sign is a priori
something that has been given by experience. Saussures treatment, on the other hand,
is insistently negative, or even apophatic. In this sense, the most characteristic sign
for Saussure is a non-existing sign, the so-called zero-sign. Zero sign is present
through its absence. Its absence is meaningful. As it has been said before, every
Saussurean sign is a pure form which is not present in text, but only represented in it.
In this sense zero sign indicates the double absence: an absent sign is represented
through the absence of sign.
Now let us return to Peirce. The whole Peircean treatment of signs and all his
definitions of signs show a kind of uncertainty. The sign is a definite object, but in
explication Peirce is forced to use either indefinite pronouns (some, something,
somebody) or ordinal numbers (first, second, third). Of the latter he makes up
83_Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

substantives: firstness, secondness, thirdness. Such an act demonstrates Peirces


insecurity. He has no right words to describe signs. In a certain sense the indefinite
pronouns demonstrate the purest type of reference: a reference without the referent.
There is no such quality as somethingness or somebodiness, after which we can
recognize somebody or something and call them with such words. Something is not
some certain thing, but any kind of thing. The same applies to somebody. Thus, to
say about some thing that it is something, actually means nothing or means that we
are creating an illusion of saying something. In a way it is the same with ordinal
numbers. An isolated ordinal number means nothing. When Peirce talks about the
third the preconditions of which are the first and the second, then it has a certain
sense, but when he claims, for example, that the idea of First is predominant (3, 302),
that the first does not need the second or the third, then it is, above all, a bad usage of
language. We probably understand what Peirce wants to say here, but not thanks to
his formulations, but in spite of them. The most interesting thing about Peirce is that
he tries to use ordinal numerals in a kind of half-substantive form. First, second and
third are for him categories which he writes with a capital letter; yet, we must note
that he finds no other, non-numeric names for these categories. Hence, first, second
and third are not just some objects named so. To emphasize this difference, Peirce
distinguishes first and firstness, etc. Rougly speaking, the difference is that the first is
an ontological category, the firstness is an epistemological one: firstness is the idea of
first. Firstness, secondness and thirdness are first of all not categories, but ugly
words, words non-existent in English. They are like monsters, something connected
with the Loch Ness monster, I suppose. Peirce needs special terms to express the
most elementary, the most natural and at the same time the most basic phenomena,
but he does not find any already existing words for them in the language and is forced
either to create impossible words or to use empty words like something.
It is characteristic that many of Peirces disciples like Charles Morris or
Thomas Sebeok do not use Peirces categories like first or firstness and even choose
not to give a direct definition of signs, preferring examples and paraphrases.
It seems that the reason here is not Peirces insufficient efforts; it is hidden in
the nature of the sign. When we try to define a sign proceeding from the same logic
with which we define any other empirical object (but that is exactly what Peirce is
trying to do in his phenomenology or phaneroscopy), a sign simply slips away. It is
not an object like other things. A sign is not a something, it is not a thing at all.
A paradoxical situation evolves. We can recognize the signs perfectly. We can
describe and analyze them, we have many different ways to systemize them, but we
are not able to say what sign is. This causes a lot of inconveniences and not just on
the theoretical level. Especially big problems arise in different spheres of cultural
semiotics; for example, there is quite a large amount of publications on semiotics of
cinema, but we do not know what is a cinematographic sign. In a way, analogical
problems arise also in the field of semiotics of poetry and semiotics of music. Even
the question of sign in natural language is now not so clear as it seemed to be a
couple of dozens years ago. There evolves even a special kind of semiotics:
semiotics without signs.
Now the question arises: why didnt Saussure have such difficulties? The
answer is obvious: for Saussure, right from the beginning sign is not an empirical
phenomenon. In his implicit Platonist system sign has the same nature as a Platonic
Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_84

idea. It is not some object, but it is realized in an object. In other words, in


Saussures case we must make the same conclusion as in Peirces case: signs cannot
be treated in the same vein as other objects. Where ther are things, there are no signs;
where there are signs, there are no things.

The Third Step. Signs Way


I am convinced that the absence of a good definition of sign is not the result of
insufficient efforts by the founders of modern semiotics. The difficulties must lie in
the object itself. Let us try to approach the problem from the opposite side: not to
find out what the sign is, but what it is not. Indeed, in the period of Sturm und Drang
of semiotics the scholars were always enthusiastic when they discovered new types of
signs, spheres of semiotics. 4 They are most certainly right: these are signs indeed.
But if all these surrounding us are signs, what, then, is not a sign? If everything is
a sign, then semiotics is not any more connected with empirical knowledge, but it
becomes a so-to-say general theory of allness.
The usual object treated by normal sciences is characterized with one
fundamental quality: self-identity, object is identical to itself, A = A. This quality is
what makes possible any kind of investigation of this object, if this condition is
violated, then not only the scientific investigation becomes impossible, but also any
kind of knowledge, at least in the European sense of the word. A = A is not only the
basis of ontology (according to Aristotle, self-identity is the basis of existence), but
also that of epistemology: the law of identity, formulated already by Aristotle, is the
first and the main law of formal (European) logic.
It is different in the world of signs. Usually, a sign cannot be identified with
itself, since such identification undermines its main semiotical quality. Of cource,
principally nothing prevents the self-identity of signs as well. In such a case we are
dealing with autonymic signs or, more correctly, with the autonymic usage of sign.
Only in autonymic usage sign refers to itself. However, it is important to note that
autonymic usage is neither original, nor more natural; we come across such usage
only in the semiotically developed cultures, analytical or meta-language contexts. It
is characteristic that specially marked are in particular autonymic, not the usual
objective usages of signs: in written text it is ordinarily italics or logical quotation
marks.
Thus, the usual identification of sign is not connected with self-identity. The
identity of a sign lies not in itself, but in an entirely different object called the
meaning of this sign. A sign is neither identical to itself nor to the object denoted by
it. A sign is identified through its meaning, but it is not identical with its meaning
either; they are principally different phenomena. Thus, in the world of signs the law
of identity is not valid. In the basis of semiotics there lies an internal paradoxicality:
A z A.
The principal paradoxicality of the sphere of signs is not just one of its peculiar
qualities. It would be enough to say that it is the basis of the phenomenon of untruth.
In the world before and beyond sign there is no place for lies, lie comes to the world
4

Cf, for example, the beginnings of Morris and Sebeoks books with a number of examples:
this is a sign, these are signs, these, these, these are signs.

85_Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

along with language, lies are created by signs. As Rousseau resolutely claimed and
Aesopus before him, language is created for lying. During the centuries the fight
against untruth always became the fight against language, its semiotic nature. But
this fight is hopeless, because we can only fight signs with signs.
However, the history of thinking knows different attempts and many traditions
that make a try to avoid signs and the law of identity. It may sound rather
paradoxical, since signs seem to violate this law, but we must admit that these things
are closely connected and the fight against identity is always the fight against signs.
Moreover, these attempts are related to the traditions of Eastern thinking, but we can
find also in the West several attempts to undermine these principles. Maybe one of
the best known is that of Heraclitus: You could not step twice into the same river
(Plato Cratylus 402a). It is, however, remarkable; how dubious all these attempts are.
The saying by Heraclitus denies only the self-identity of an object, but not that of a
subject. You cannot step twice into the same river, because the river has changed, not
the one who steps (of cource, there can be a directly opposite conclusion based on the
thesis of the constant mutability of a subject in immutable world: one generation
passes and another comes, but the world forever stays Ecclesiastes 1:4). Secondly,
not the self-identity of the object is denied completely, but only in different segments
of time. In every single moment of time the self-identity of the object is not
endangered by anything, otherwise it would be impossible to step into river not only
twice, but even once.
What is the basis for self-identity in case of river or any other object? It is the
sign which denotes this object. What bothers Heraclitus is that constant changes in
world are not reflected in signs. There is already a different water in the river, but the
river is still the same.
Thus, without sign, any kind of knowledge is impossible, and the precondition
of knowledge is the identity of object to itself (A = A), but the content of which are
the substitution of something else (A = B), which is principally different from it (A z
B), and manipulation of this substitute (B) in order to achieve results which through
reversed substitution are trans-shipped to object (A). What are these A-s and B-s?
We can interpret them in many different ways, for example, A is an object and B is a
model, or A is an object and B is its sign. In any case, the way of knowledge is the
way of signs.

WORKS CITED
Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton, 1957.
Lang, Alfred. 12 Further Definitions. http://www.univ-perp.fr/see/rch/lsh/marty/
langdef.htm.
Lotman, Mihhail. Atomistic Versus Holistic Semiotics. Sign Systems Studies 30.2.
Ed. P. Torop, M. Lotman, and K. Kull. Tartu: Tartu likooli kirjastus, 2002.
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Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_86

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ABSTRACT
The aim of this paper is twofold: to treat certain aspects of the theoretical foundations
of semiotics, thereby avoiding the usual way of semiotical conceptualization, and to
break the pattern of regular semiotical discourse. To understand better the difficulties
of contemporary semiotics, a re-examination of its sources, Peirce and Saussure,
seems to be reasonable. While the Saussurean approach treats sign as a single
phenomenon (this approach can be called atomistic), for Peirce a sign does not exist
as a single phenomenon; it comes into being only in the relationship with other signs
in the same sign system (such approach will be named holistic).
The basis of (European) knowledge is the self-identity of investigated object
(A=A). As it was shown already by Gottlob Frege, the equal sign (=) does not link
the objects, but their signs. In this sense, the sign is different from the object: its
identification is not connected with self-identity. The identity of a sign lies not in
itself, but in entirely different object called the meaning of this sign. A sign is neither
identical to itself nor to the object denoted by it. A sign is identified through its
meaning, but it is not identical with its meaning either; they are principally different
phenomena. Thus, in the world of signs the law of identity is not valid. In the basis of
semiotics lies an internal paradoxicality: A z A.
Key words: Charles Sanders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, sign,
foundations of semiotics, knowledge

87_Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities

(A=A)
(=)

AA

Mihhail Lotman_Peirce, Saussure and the Foundations of Semiotics_88