The semiotics of A. J. Greimas: A European intellectual heritage seen from the inside and the outside

  • Eero Tarasti University of Helsinki, Helsinki
Keywords: structuralism, formal logics, modalities, narratology, Paris School, Vladimir Propp, Wilhelm Sesemann, Lev Karsavin, Claude Lévi-Strauss, existential semiotics


The essay deals with the formation of the Greimassian thought from its earliest origins in his young years at Kaunas University, i.e. his connections with Wilhelm Sesemann, Lev Karsavin and Russian formalism, to the rise of structuralism in Paris. The Paris School approach stems from Sémantique structurale (1967) leading to the ‘third semiotic revolution’, as Greimas called it, by the invention of the modalities. This made his method close to even analytic philosophy and modal logics. In both, a linguistic turn and use of formal logics took place. Yet Greimas’ semiotics grew out of a purely linguistic framework into a broader philosophical approach. Nowadays, considered one of the classics of the semiotic scene, his method still has not lost anything of its analytic acuity and epistemic temptation. Even such new paradigms as existential semiotics grow organically from some Greimas’ ideas which have kept their relevance.


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