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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 31, Issue 2, 2003

Ilia Kalinin
Pages 499-508

The semiotic model of a historical process
History — between grammar and rhetoric

The paper is devoted to the problem of the linguistic grounds of the semiotic model of history, according to which history is described as a communication process circulating within a society. An analogy of principle between language and culture is the theoretical premise of that semiotic approach. Proceeding on this assumption semiotics (B. Uspensky’s case for instance) regards historical process as the process of text outcome and reading, while at the same time control over communication is provided through the cultural code or in other words — through the grammar of history. But the description of history as just the functioning of a single and unified grammatical code doesn’t make it possible to explain the appearance of new meanings or history par excellence. J. Lotman interpreted the rhetorical mechanism of text outcome as the working of two (at a minimum) interplaying semiotic systems. It is the principle of its working that he takes as a basis of his semiotic version of cultural diachrony. And at the very point semiotics finds itself in front of the choice: either to stop at the decomposition the rhetorical machine on separate cultural codes and at the description their separate grammars, or to conceptualize a historical event as un-grammatism, grammatical error, “wrong text”. The analytical way leads to an extremely reduced theoretical construction; the synthetic way undermines status of the semiotic model of history as a positivistic scientific project.

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