Verse as a semiotic system

Mihhail Lotman

Abstract


Poetry is an important challenge for semiotics, and a special area of study for the Tartu-Moscow semiotic school, since the first volume of Sign Systems Studies was Juri Lotman’s monograph Lectures on Structural Poetics (1964). From then on the concept of poetry as one of the secondary modelling systems has evolved, since in relation to poetry, the primary modelling system is natural language. In this paper, the concept of semiotic system has been re-examined and the treatment of primary and secondary semiotic systems has been significantly revised. A semiotic system can be characterized not only by its internal structure and other systems to which it is related, but also by the field upon what it is realized. The latter aspect has gained almost no attention in any treatment of semiotics; the execution of a sign is understood in the spirit of Saussure and Hjelmslev as a material realization of an abstract element (for instance, a chess piece knight can be realized with wood or plastic, but it can also remain purely virtual). At first, distinction is made between language and sign system. Every sign system consists of language and field. There are three different kinds of fields: 1) just a background – footprints on sand are a sign on the background of sand; 2) a material structured field (a football ground or a chess board in the game called Chapayev) and 3) an abstract structured field, which in its turn consists of other fields (for instance, the chess board which consists of 64 fields). Differently from a football ground, a chess board can be a purely virtual one on which virtual pieces are moved (for instance, in case of blindfold or correspondence chess). The field in its turn can be language and one language can use another language as its field. In this case we speak of primary and secondary sign systems. For instance, the prosodic system of language is a field for a verse metre, while the semantic system of language is a field for a narrative.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2012.1-2.02





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