Research Code Key
[E] Explanation [O] Opinion [W] Website [R] Further Research [Q] Quotation [U] Useful [!] Critical
[X] Exhibition [T] Timeline [I] Important [>] Indent
[P] Photograph [B] Book To Read


On semiosis, Umwelt, and semiosphere – Kalevi Kull

[U] According to Lotman, a mechanism consisting of a sender, receiver, and transmitter of information does not work as a semiotic mechanism, while not embedded in a semiosphere.

[U] Thus, I define semiosis as a process of translation, which makes a copy of a text, suitable to replace the original text in some situations, but which is also so different from the original text that the original cannot be used (either spatially, or temporally, or due to the differences in text-carrier or language) for the same functions.

[U] This translation process (i.e., semiosis) requires two types of recognition processes. First, the translation assumes that parts of the original text are recognized (on the basis of pre- existing memory-text) and as a result new structures are built, whereas a certain isomorphism between the original and the new text is retained.

[U] And second, there is a recognition process which starts the translation process, which is required for the existence of the whole process on another level, and which at the same time gives an intentional dimension to any particular semiosis.

[U] I also state that the one carrying out the translation (the translator, which includes memory) is itself a text, i.e. the result of some translation process.

[U] From this definition it follows that semiosis always requires a previous semiosis which produced the translator. Since the translator already recognizes, i.e. matches with something, the form of which has been stored, i.e. which has previously been matched, it follows that the current translation process is preceded by some previous translation process. Also, the text used for translation is the product of a previous semiosis.

[U] This turns semiosis into an endless chain – every semiosis comes from semiosis, or in Peirce’s version, omne symbolum de symbolo.


[U] Umwelt is the semiotic world of organism.

[U] It includes all the meaningful aspects of the world for a particular organism.

[U] Thus, Umwelt is a term uniting all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Indeed, the Umwelt-concept follows naturally due to the connectedness of individual semiotic processes within an organism, which means that any individual semiosis in which an organism is functioning as a subject is continuously connected to any other semiosis of the same organism.

[U] At the same time, the Umwelts of different organisms differ, which follows from the individuality and uniqueness of the history of every single organism.

[U] Umwelt is the closed world of organism.


[U] Semiosphere is the set of all interconnected Umwelts. Any two Umwelts, when communicating, are a part of the same semiosphere.

Originally, the notion of semiosphere was introduced by Yuri Lotman (1984), a semiotician who worked in Tartu University, Estonia.

The semiosphere, as a notion used by Hoffmeyer (who came to it independently), seems to have a slightly different meaning than the definition given above. Namely, his expressions (for instance, p. 59: ‘the semiosphere imposes limitations on the Umwelt of its resident populations in the sense that, to hold its own in the semiosphere, a population must occupy a “semiotic niche”‘) seem to show that semiosphere is something which may be partially independent of the organisms’ Umwelts.

On the contrary, I think it is entirely created by the organisms’ Umwelts.

Organisms are themselves creating signs, which become the constituent parts of the semiosphere.

This is not an adaptation to environment, but the creation of a new environment.

I can see here the possibility for a more positive interpretation of Hoffmeyer’s statement – namely, the concept of ecological niche as it is traditionally used in biology, can be essentially developed according to the semiotic understanding of the processes which are responsible for the building of Umwelt.

One has a right to ask whether there could be several semiospheres.

If there are no semiotic processes which connect them, this may be possible, but when communication takes place between the spheres, they evidently form one and the same semiosphere.