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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 31, Issue 1, 2003

Han-liang Chang
Pages 9-22

Is language a primary modeling system? On Juri Lotman’s concept of semiosphere

Juri Lotman’s well-known distinction of primary modeling system versus secondary modeling system is a lasting legacy of his that has been adhered to, modified, and refuted by semioticians of culture and nature. Adherence aside, modifications and refutations have focused on the issue whether or not language is a primary modeling system, and, if not, what alternatives can be made available to replace it. As Sebeok would concur, for both biosemiosis and anthroposemiosis, language can only be a secondary modeling system on top of the biological experience of Umwelt or human sensory system. This paper proposes to explore the possibility of a “preverbal” modeling system suggested by Lotman’s spatial concept of semiosphere, and discuss its implications in cross-cultural dialogue.