Paper proposals can be related to an already suggested thematic session or to other aspects of the summer school’s general topic “Semiotic (un-)predictability”. The preliminary list of suggested sessions will be updated according to paper proposals.

  »   (Un-)predictability, probability and their relatives in semiotic analyses
  »   Intersemiosis: (un)predictability versus (un)translatability
  »   HABIT as regularity and irregularity: Peirce – beyond chance
  »   Cognitive semiotics meets biosemiotics / Biosemiotics meets cognitive semiotics
  »   Political semiotics: conceptualizing contingency
  »   The dialectics of predictable/unpredictable in cultural semiotic productions
  »   The study of future umwelten: umwelt futurology
  »   Interpretations of history of semiotics
  »   ... and sessions on other forms and aspects of semiotic (un-)predictability

Chair: Peter Grzybek (University of Graz, Austria)

In the very last interview he gave during his lifetime, Juri M. Lotman emphasized ‘unpredictability’ as a crucial concept, which he declared to be of major interest for contemporary science in general, and for future work on literature and culture, in particular: “We strive to introduce unpredictability in the field of science.“ The postulate to introduce a new term, or concept, implies of course that this term has not been relevant, or less relevant, before; Lotman’s postulate may therefore appear to be astonishing, if one takes into consideration the fact that ‘unpredictability’ had repeatedly been used by Lotman almost two decades before, and took a prominent place in his Структура художественного текста (1970), as well as in his Анализ поэтического текста (1972).

Generalizing observations on the (un-)predictability of metric structures in Lomonosov’s poetry, Lotman concluded that in a poetic text, due to its multi-level organization underlying multi-factorial influences, there is some compensating inter-dependence between rhythmic and other linguistic structures: regularity and predictability on one level of a given (text) system turns out to appear like the violation of regularity and reduction of predictability on another level. Quite obviously the concept of (un)predictability played a role in Lotman’s thinking long before he explicitly postulated the inclusion of these concepts as an innovative prospective for semiotic analysis, now treating (un)predictability not as an isolated phenomenon (the study of which might be restricted to the elements of a given system, or sub-system, under study), but rather embedding it in a broader systematic framework.

Insisting on the concept of unpredictability as an innovative scientific prospective, Lotman obviously wanted to direct attention to the phenomenon of complex and dynamic processes, with an emphasis on stochastic, rather than deterministic methods in science, and emphasizing the importance of time dynamics in cultural processes. In this respect, two different aspects of the above-mentioned claims must be kept apart: one aspect concerns the dynamics of cultural processes to be described, the other aspect is the methodological apparatus to describe these processes. Only a small part of this double-faced problem has been taken account of by the majority of contemporary semiotic studies of text and culture. True, it has recently been shown that earlier space-oriented concepts of Tartu semiotics (first specifically derived from and applied to literary texts, later to culture as a whole and to the semiosphere in general) later became increasingly complemented by temporal concepts – a tendency to be seen particularly in Lotman’s latest history-related ruminations. But Lotman’s vision went much beyond of what has thus far been understood of it. Conceiving not only history, and literary history as a part of it, as a dynamic process, but also each individual text being part of that history (be it poetic or not), implies in fact a completely different understanding of semiotic processes, and demands for essentially different analytical and descriptive methods.

At this point, a discussion of relevant terms and concepts is necessary – else the discussion of ‘(un)predictability’ would be too narrow and short-minded. Among these concepts are, among others, ‘expectation’, ‘guessing’, ‘prophecy’, ‘prognosis’, and ‘scientific prediction’; on the other hand, a clarification of concepts such as ‘probability’, ‘possibility’, ‘chance’, or ‘randomness’ is needed.

This session will initially offer a forum to discuss these concepts and their relevance for semiotic analyses of texts (in a broad semiotic understanding of this term), the latter being understood as products and as processes. It will be helpful to discuss not only specifics of artistic texts, but to analyze the processing of ‘ordinary’ non-artificial texts, as well. In this context, poetic texts are conceived of as special cases of text generation in general which is by no means suspended in the creation of poetic texts. The session will include contributions which concentrate on notions and concepts mentioned above, allowing for statistical, or probabilistic, analyses in the sphere of semiotics. Contributions from different scientific “levels” are equally welcome, starting from discussions of basic concepts and approaches and the definition of terms, over descriptive procedures up to theoretical and probabilistic models of semiotic systems and processes.

Chairs: Peeter Torop (University of Tartu), Elin Sütiste (University of Tartu)

There is always a strong element of unpredictability in translation: we never know the exact final target text beforehand. Yet at the same time there is also an element of predictability about translations: something of the start text is expected (= predicted) to remain “the same” in translation, otherwise we would not talk about the outcome as translation. This situation grows exponentially more complex when placed into the intersemiotic context of cultural communication processes.

Nowadays, intersemiotic translation is not anymore simply about translating a text from one sign system into another sign system. Instead it makes more sense to talk about intersemiotic dynamic environment of cultural communication processes in which various kinds of texts exhibiting various degrees of translational character coexist. Besides clearly discernible translations of individual texts there exist series of messages that share certain relevant features or that can be regarded as variations of the “same message”. This makes it necessary to account for the transmedial existence of messages, and therefore besides medium-focused analysis, transmedial analysis acquires growing importance. R. Jakobson’s concept of intersemiotic translation can be productively applied in the context of both implicit intersemiosis (cultural translation, visuality of interlingual translation, etc.) as well as explicit intersemiosis (intertextuality, interdiscursivity, intermediality).

This session invites discussions on the issues of translatability and untranslatability in relation to intersemiotic translation. The session also addresses the question how does the trans- and cross-medial cultural environment affect messages and how does (un)predictability work in cultural processes of text generation and reception.

Possible topics include:

      - Intersemiotic nature of translation
      - Semiotic problems of cultural translation
      - Intersemiosis: interdiscursivity, intertextuality, intermediality
      - Transmedial cultural environment
      - Target-oriented cross-medial communication processes
      - Culture text in intersemiotic conditions
      - Etc.

Chairs: Donna E. West (State University of New York at Cortland, USA), Myrdene Anderson (Purdue University, USA)

Semioticians have increasingly become aware of Charles Sanders Peirce’s addiction to regularity—rampant not merely in his affinity to a certain number (three), but in qualitative processes in nature and in alloanimal/human behavior (unconscious and conscious). This session advocates an inclusive view of habit, assuming that Transparent habits comport with the givens in a system. Through an opaque looking glass, the facile entrainment of habit (as tendency) loops back— transforming agents not to objects only but to other roles in event schemes: patients, instruments, and beyond. The very nature of habit is undergirded by tendencies in science, by instinctual seeking after patterns, and by expectations that such patterns emerge/unfold consequent to particular eventualities, in Peirce’s grand continua. Habit is fickle, never satisfied by reasoning predicated upon slices of reality or hypotheses which explain them. Habit turns back upon itself— reinvigorated by predispositions to revise abductions in pursuit of the Final Interpretant.

Attempts to detect regularity in relations (especially cause-effect) when surprising consequences assail us—as misbehaving/anomalous offenders—temporarily gives rise to a homeostasis, only to be replaced later by alternative rationality originating from novel sensations in Secondness. These sensations/perceptions are accompanied by Firstness-based possibilities and by Thirdness-based guarantees such that the revised proposal under consideration somehow appears more objective, and purports to put us in mind of higher principles of scientific, moral, and logical truth. As such, sensation and perception often shanghai cognition with intermittent feedback (positive reinforcement or negative sanction) at various levels, spawning Rorschachs, beliefs, doubts, magic, imaginings.... Accordingly, humans demonstrate an uncanny knack for turning paradoxes into acceptable algorithms from unexpected consequences. Novel, ampliative explanations for unexpected consequences are proposed while, on their heels, originary proposals are dismissed in favor of other, perhaps even shorter-lived hypotheses.

In short, Peirce’s concept of habit (analogous to abductive reasoning) suggests that: repetition engages cognition, ritualization encodes action, and broken habits can also fractionate or displace ethical and logical systems. At any scale, habit can misbehave, aiding simplification, intensification, amplification, and/or collapse of both habit and its host, each embedded in ecological, intersecting, often heterarchic webs of relations.

This session invites all explorations of the dynamically nonlinear.

Suggestive Bibliography

Aliseda, Atocha. (2000). Abduction as Epistemic Change: A Peircean Model in Artificial Intelligence. In Peter Flach and Antonis Kakas, (eds). Abductive and Inductive Reasoning: Essays on their Relation and Integration, 45-58. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

— (2006). Abductive Reasoning: Logical Investigations into Discovery and Explanation. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Anderson, Myrdene and Devika Chawla. (2013). Habits of homes abroad, in Semiotics 2012, Karen Haworth, Andrea Johnson, and Leonard Sbrocchi, eds. Toronto: Legas Press, 69-76.

Colapietro, Vincent. (2009). Habit, competence, and purpose: How to make the grades of clarity clearer. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 45 (3), 348-377.

Nöth, Winfried. (2010). The criterion of habit in Peirce’s definitions of the symbol. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 46(1), 82-93.

Nozick, Robert. (2001). Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Nubiola, Jaime. (2005). Abduction or the logic of surprise. Semiotica 153(1/4), 117-130.

Peirce, Charles S. (i. 1866 – 1913). The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vols. I – VI eds. Charles Hartshorne and

Paul Weiss (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 1931 – 1935), Vols. VII – VIII ed. Arthur Burks (Same publisher, 1958).

— (i. 1867 – 1913). The Essential Peirce, Vol. 1 ed. Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press 1992), Vol. 2 ed. Peirce Edition Project (Same publisher, 1998).

— Unpublished manuscripts are dated according to the Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce, ed. Richard Robin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1967), and cited according to the convention of the Peirce Edition Project, using the numeral “0” as a place holder.

West, Donna. (2013). Habit as non-addiction: Mediation of mental signs, in Semotics 2012, Karen Haworth, Andrea Johnson, and Leonard Sbrocchi, eds. Toronto: Legas Press, 87-96.

— (2014). From Habit to Habituescence: Peirce’s Continuum of Ideas,” in J. Pelkey, ed., The SSA Annual: Semiotics 2013. Toronto: Legas Press, 117-126.

— (In Press). Conscious and unconscious recursiveness: Inducements from Secondness. The SSA Annual: Semiotics 2014.

Chairs: Göran Sonesson (Lund University) and Morten Tønnessen (University of Stavanger, Norway)

We invite contributions that go beyond purely anthropocentric notions of meaning from the perspectives of either cognitive semiotics or biosemiotics. Both cognitive semiotics and biosemiotics acknowledge that some meanings occur in contexts that are not only human – i.e., in contexts involving non-humans, be they animals or other creatures. There is clearly an overlap between the two approaches, which may explain the fact that several prominent scholars conceive of themselves as being both cognitive semioticians and biosemioticians at the same time. For other scholars, however, several contentious issues oppose the two approaches.

Biosemiotics and cognitive semiotics have tended to disagree on core issues within semiotics. One of these is the conception of sign – what is a sign? What constitutes a sign? What is the simplest sign? Or are there perhaps meanings which are not signs? Is this more than a question of definitions, convenient for the kind of research developed in the two approaches? Relatedly, these two traditions have tended to disagree on the semiotic threshold(s): Where in the world of our experience (or nature, as biosemioticians would tend to say) do we encounter phenomena that we can rightly describe as sign exchange? Or, perhaps, in a more general sense, as exchange of meanings? What part of the world is of a semiotic nature, in what sense of semiotic, and what part is not? Despite affinity and overlap in theoretical outlook, such disagreements have led to radically different takes on e.g. what counts as human–animal communication, and to what extent reciprocal understanding between humans and animals is possible.

In addition to contributions that explore different meanings that are not exclusively human in their naturally occurring range, we welcome contributions that aim to bridge the gap between biosemiotics and cognitive semiotics.  What common ground is there currently for these two highly profiled approaches within semiotics? And what further common ground is it possible to develop, to the benefit of both approaches, by way of adopting shared terminology etc.?

As indicated above, the current session welcomes both case studies with a link to either cognitive semiotics or biosemiotics, and papers of a more theoretical or methodological nature that aim to discuss the affinity between cognitive semiotics and biosemiotics.

Chairs: Mari-Liis Madisson (University of Tartu), Ott Puumeister (University of Tartu), Andreas Ventsel (University of Tartu) and Peeter Selg (Tallinn University)

From the point of view of political semiotics political can be understood as the manifestation of power-relations in different semiotic systems inside of which social identities are constructed. We can say that social context and semiotic circumstances could have been otherwise and therefore every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. In ontological level this exclusion is primarily characterized by the rejection of essentialist notions of ground for the social, and the inauguration of cultural and discursive characteristics (such as asymmetry and entropy; explosion; antagonism; insurmountable tension between organization and disorganization, regularity and irregularity, etc.) into the wider social scientific paradigm. It implies an increased awareness of, on the one hand, contingency and, on the other, the political as the moment of partial and always, in the last instance, unsuccessful grounding.  It can be called “political” since it is the expression of a particular structure of power relations.  The main goal of political semiotics as a discipline is the ascertainment of processually defined power-relations in different signification practice; and analysis of those signification logics.

Chairs: Julieta Haidar (National School of Anthropology and History, Mexico) and Eduardo Chávez Herrera (University of Warwick, UK)

This discussion panel addresses the dialectics between predictable/unpredictable processes in different semiotic productions.

This relationship, as the central core of our discussion, will allow the convergence of different approaches and analysis of unpredictable phenomena. By means of privileging this type of situations we try to gather proposals that deal with contemporary matters in our world, bonded to a theory of unpredictability, as integrated by Juri Lotman in his late writings.
In this session we encourage colleagues to discuss proposals related to current topics in the field: unpredictability in art, politics, religion, economy, and cultural change. Applications, or theoretical ideas are very much welcomed.

Chair: Morten Tønnessen (University of Stavanger, Norway)

An Umwelt trajectory can be characterized as the course through evolutionary (or cultural) time taken by the Umwelt of a creature, as defined by its changing relations with the Umwelten of other creatures (source here and in the following: Tønnessen 2014). The Umwelt trajectory of a creature is thus the historical path of its perceptual and behavioral dispositions considered from an ecological and phenomenological point of view. This notion represents an aggregate, collective (and evolutionary) equivalent to Uexküll’s notion of the Umwelt-tunnel of a single individual creature (Uexküll, 1928: 70). Umwelt futurology, the study of future Umwelten, is thus the study of future Umwelt trajectories.

The ecological crisis is irrevocably tied both in past and future to the Umwelt trajectory of humankind. By studying this particular Umwelt trajectory we may reflect on how the human species has emerged as a dominant ecological player, and how the ecological crisis might play out in the future. Part of the predictive power of Umwelt futurology is to estimate whether a particular Umwelt creature will have a future at all.

Let an Umwelt scenario be defined as a predicted or estimated future state and/or development for societal and/or ecological circumstances, described in terms of Umwelt. Thus defined, Umwelt scenarios can be designed for a single specimen or person, a population of animals or people, a species, a consortium of living creatures, an ecosystem qua an aggregate of living creatures, etc. In short, wherever there are Umwelten, Umwelt scenarios may be made. Their specificity will as a rule be negatively correlated with their level of abstraction – in other words, the more abstract an Umwelt scenario is (i.e., the more it generalizes biological categories), the less specific it is. En masse, Umwelt scenarios constitute Umwelt futurology, i.e. studies of the future which make use of Umwelt modeling and methodology.

Figure 1: The basics of Umwelt futurology.

Figure 1 shows the simple idea underlying Umwelt futurology. Whenever a past Umwelt of some kind is in the process of developing into a future Umwelt (given an identical Umwelt creature, defined theoretically as one and the same organism, population, lineage of organisms, species, etc.), we can in principle identify, or estimate, which objects will be involved in the Umwelt at various stages of its development:

      a. Umwelt objects predicted to appear in the past only;
      b. Umwelt objects predicted to appear in both past and future;
      c. Umwelt objects predicted to appear in the future only.

This session welcomes contributions that one way or another address Umwelt futurology – either theoretically, or in form of specific case studies.

Acknowledgement: This work has been carried out thanks to the support of the research project Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural Mediation and Semiotic Analysis (EEA Norway Grants/Norway Financial Mechanism 2009-2014 under project contract no. EMP151).


Tønnessen, Morten 2014. Umwelt Trajectories. Semiotica 198: 159–180.

Uexküll, Jakob von 1928. Theoretische Biologie (second edition). Berlin: Julius Springer.

Chair: Martin Švantner (Charles University, Prague; West Bohemian University, Pilsen)

In the course of the past thirty years, there is a growing awareness among semioticians, that the concepts they are working with, have their historical, in some cases more developed, predecessors, and that there are at least important similarities between what semioticians do today and what had be done by (most notably, but not exclusively) philosophers of the past. The thorough investigation of the sign theories of the past continuously leads to new discoveries not without a bearing to our understanding of what semiotics is for us today.

In our proposed session we want to concentrate on the two interrelated aspects witnessed in every historiographical account of sign-theory of the past. The very act of identification of a certain mode of inquiry as semiotical is determined by the inquirers` understanding of what semiotics is for them, to what school of semiotic inquiry they themselves belong. In other words, it is questionable, whether there is such a thing as one history of semiotics, for there is no such a thing as one semiotics today. We will thus concentrate both on the methodological aspect of semiotic historiography, on the one hand, and on particular historical investigations itselves. The purpose of our session is to invite researches of different semiotic denominations in order to work together on the historically aware analysis of concepts belonging to this or that part/school of semiotic inquiry.

The core notion of our session is therefore that of translation, as well as interpretation. Both present and past semiotic systems and concepts reveal diverse kinds of relations, either of agreement, disproportionality, difference in presuppositions etc. The purpose of our session is by means of bringing together these different semiotic models to describe the possible interactions between them and finding proper methods and approaches for describing and dissolving their manifold tensions and dynamisms – both on the level of (meta)semiotical methodologies of interpretation and translation of historical material and its possibility regarding different semiotic paradigms, as well as on the level of particular historical studies dedicated to authors and concepts having in one way or another bearing upon our present understanding of semiotic web.

The session`s proponents are researchers from Charles University, Prague, collectively working on the history of semiotics both in teaching and research, currently preparing for publication a monograph about the topic.