A. J. Greimas’ historical lexicology (1945–1958) and the place of the lexeme in his work

Thomas F. Broden


In his first research project, Greimas developed and applied new methods in the historical lexicology of modern French. His theoretical articles formulate a sociological approach that analyses vocabulary as a history of culture, illustrated in his two dissertations on fashion in 1830. In the 1980s, from the perspective of his semiotics, Greimas dismissed his early scholarship as failed experiments that taught him what not to do. In the changed epistemological context of the 21st century, the work appears as pioneering research in cultural studies which possesses clear scholarly value. Greimas’ philological and lexicological training bore fruit directly and indirectly throughout his career. Two decades before he launched his semiotics, his project for lexicology proposes a semantic methodology, envisions the construction of an organon for the human sciences, and explicitly calls for a multi-generational collaborative enterprise. Like his structural semantics and semiotics, this lexicology entails three inseparable components: epistemological foundations, concrete methodologies, and robust applications. Moreover, a focus on the lexeme characterizes Greimas’ structural semantics and persists in his semiotics.


history of semiotics; lexicography; linguistic fields; cultural studies

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2017.45.1-2.07

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