The growth of signs

Winfried Nöth


The paper discusses the theory of semiosis in the context of Peirce’s philosophy of evolution. Focussing on the thesis that symbols grow by incorporating indices and icons, it proposes answers to the following questions: What does Peirce mean by the “self-development of signs” in nature and culture and by symbols as living things? How do signs grow? Do all signs grow, or do only symbols grow? Does the growth of signs presuppose semiotic agency, and if so, who are the agents in semiosis when signs and sign systems grow? The paper discusses objections raised by culturalists and historical linguists against the assumption that signs can still grow and are still growing in complex cultures, and it draws parallels and points out differences between Peirce’s theory of semiotic growth and the theories of memetics and teleosemiotics.


C. S. Peirce; icon; index; symbol; memetics; teleosemiotics

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia