Codes and coding: Sebeok’s zoosemiotics and the dismantling of the fixed-code fallacy

Cobley, Paul ORCID logoORCID: (2014) Codes and coding: Sebeok’s zoosemiotics and the dismantling of the fixed-code fallacy. Semiotica, 2014 (198) . pp. 32-45. ISSN 0037-1998 [Article] (doi:10.1515/sem-2013-0100)

PDF - First submitted uncorrected version (with author's formatting)
Download (248kB) | Preview


The concept of code has a long and varied history across the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. In the interdisciplinary field of biosemiotics it has been foundational through the idea of code duality (Hoffmeyer and Emmeche 1991); yet it has not been free from controversy and questions of definition (see, for example, Barbieri 2010). One reason why code has been so central to modern semiotics is not simply a matter of the linguistic heritage of semiology and the work of Jakobson who straddled both semiology and semiotics. Rather, it has been the programmatic reconceptualization of code which is woven through the work of modern semiotics’ founder, the father of both biosemiotics and zoosemiotics, Thomas A. Sebeok. A biologist manqué, a communication theorist influenced by cybernetics and a semiotician deriving from the ‘major tradition’ of Peirce, arguably Sebeok’s most systematic considerations of code were offered in his essays on zoosemiotics, largely from his 1963 coining of the term onwards. This article principally revisits the 1972 collection of Sebeok’s zoosemiotic essays and suggests that his particular observations in respect of analogue and digital codes and their relation to evolution in the world of animals harbours an opportunity to rethink and potentially resolve, through an ethological lens, current controversies regarding the status of code.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 16960
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Paul Cobley
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2015 16:17
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 23:49

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.