Volume 32, Issue 1/2, 2004
Semiotics and Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of umwelt
Semiotics, the body of knowledge developed by study of the action of signs, like every living discipline, depends upon a community of inquirers united through the recognition and adoption of basic principles which establish the ground-concepts and guide-concepts for their ongoing research. These principles, in turn, come to be recognized in the first place through the work of pioneers in the field, workers commonly unrecognized or not fully recognized in their own day, but whose work later becomes foundational as the community of inquirers matures and ‘lays claim to its own’. As semiotics has matured, the work of Jakob von Uexküll in establishing the concept of Umwelt has proven to be just such a pioneering accomplishment for the doctrine of signs, and in this paper I trace out some of the lines of development according to which Uexküll’s concept came to occupy its central place in semiotics today.