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From: Andrew LaVelle <lavelle <at> unm.edu>
Subject: Luigi Romeo's article on the history of the term "semiotics"
Newsgroups: gmane.science.philosophy.peirce
Date: Sunday 23rd September 2007 09:51:40 UTC (over 11 years ago)
Dear Joe and List,

Before the discussion on the history of the word “semiotics” dips too
over the horizon, I’d like to recommend an article on the subject by
Romeo, which was published in volume 6 (1977) of Semiosis (pp. 37-50).
Although now three decades old, Romeo’s article, entitled “The
Derivation of
‘Semiotics’ through the History of the Discipline”, is still
unsurpassed in
my judgment, being quite remarkable for the sheer depth and breadth of
research that he undertook to retrace the evolution and usage of the term
from antiquity to Locke and on up to the late 1800’s when Peirce first
employed it. (For a continuation of the story through the twentieth
Romeo refers the reader to Sebeok’s “Contribution to the Doctrine of

Several of Romeo’s discoveries and observations are directly relevant to
discussion; I mention a few here:

1. The original spelling of the Greek form of the word as used by Locke in
his Essay. 
2. The source(s) from which Locke drew his knowledge and prescribed
of the word. 
3. And in turn the influence this had on Peirce and his entries under the
headings “semiotics” and “semiotic” (as well as “semiology”) in
The Century

Without attempting either a synopsis or review of this article ? which by
the way reads like a detective story; thus each reader should have the
pleasure of discovering it for him/herself ? I should only like to briefly
touch on the above three points, relating them back to our previous
discussion on the subject.

1. Locke’s spelling of the Greek term:
As Romeo confirms in his investigative work, Locke’s spelling was
(and not σημειωτικη with the “ε”, as incorrectly stated by
Sebeok (1976)).
(I’m leaving off the diacritics here for convenience.) This fact was
in our recent discussion as having also been observed by John Deely, but I
wanted to show here in light of Romeo’s article that it was known as long
ago as the late 1970’s.

2. Locke’s source(s) for his spelling:
This is a much more interesting question and one that Romeo spent several
years attempting to answer, having been obliged to follow what he describes
in his own words as a “torturous path”. Not wanting to give the whole
mystery away, I will only say that Locke’s use and spelling of the term
σημιωτικη seems to be a combination of his own transliteration of
a Latin
translation of the Greek word in a medical text (which accounts for his
leaving out the “ε”) and the direct borrowing of the Greek word from a
pirated version published in 1637 of the Thesaurus Graecae Linguae.

3. Peirce and The Century Dictionary:
I quote Romeo: “It is significant, indeed, that in The Century
1897 [...], under “semiology, semeiology” (VII: 5485-5486) the first
is ‘the logical theory of signs, of the conditions of their fulfilling
functions, of their chief kinds, etc.’ The second meaning is ‘the use
gestures to express thought.’ Only the third meaning is connected with
‘symptomatology’ and, logically enough, with ‘semiotics’ as a
synonym for

[Next paragraph]: “We also know, more importantly, that the ‘logical’
section of The Century Dictionary was compiled by Charles S. Peirce. His
definition of ‘semiotics’ (different from ‘semiotic’), on the same
page as
that of ‘semiology’, leaves no doubt as to Peirce’s understanding of
Graeco-Roman tradition: ‘the doctrine or science of signs; the language
signs’, as the first meaning.”

And Romeo continues in his corresponding footnote, which is more to my
“Thus, when Charles Morris uses ‘semiotic’ for ‘semiotics’, he
employs what Peirce had already included in The Century Dictionary as an
adjective since, only when spelled in the ‘plural’, the term was a
[Note: Romeo puts the word “plural” in quotation marks since this is
the term employed by the The Century Dictionary to describe the use of the
“s” morpheme when creating the nominal form “semiotics”, a fact
explained by
the comparatively new substantive “s” morpheme in English at that time,
which was still in the process of fully taking hold. There was simply no
other way to describe it back then other than as the “plural”.]

Two other relevant points to add:

First, I checked the given pronunciation of “semiotics” in The Century
Dictionary, and it is indeed without a long “o”. Thus I reiterate again
I said in my previous message on this subject: Max Fisch’s prescribed
pronunciation of “semiotics” with a long “o” (read: IPA closed
“o”) in the
name of following Peirce’s supposed lead is irresponsible to say the
And any and every continuation of this preposterous prescriptivism which is
in complete opposition to historical fact should simply cease forevermore.

Second, Romeo gives his own take on the seemingly endless debate today
the term “semiotics”, “semiology”, and their derivatives that I
think is
worth repeating here:
“As to the alleged difference between semiotics and semiology, regarding
whether signs are intentional or not, the distinction is purely
and leads nowhere. Semiotics, i.e., general semiotics, is now one only
discipline, be it called as such or semaeology, semiology, semeiology,
semiosis, semeiosis, semiotic, and so forth. It must be derived from
σημειωτικη (‘ars semeiotica’), the doctrine of signs, which
are at the
center of every cognitive process. All other derivations are mere
suppositions based on historical accidents.”



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