“The Prague philosopher, Bernard Bolzano, in his major work The Theory of Science (1837), mainly in the last two of the four volumes, reserves much space for semiotics. The author frequently cites Locke’s Essay and the Neues Organon, and discovers in Lambert’s writings “an semiotics many very estimable remarks”, though these are of little use “for the development of the most general rules of scientific discourse”, one of the aims Bolzano sets himself (paragraph 698).

The same chapter of The Theory of Science bears two titles, one of which,-Semiotik — appears in the table of contents (vol. IV, p. XVI), the other of which — Zeichenlehre — heads the beginning of the text (p. 500); paragraph 637, which follows, identifies both designations — the theory of signs or semiotics (Zeichenlehre Oder Semiotik). If, in this chapter and in several other parts of the work, the author’s attention is held above all by the testing of the relative perfection of signs (Vollkomenheit oder Zweckmässigkeit) and particularly of signs serving logical thought, then it is in the beginning of the third volume that Bolzan? tries to introduce the reader to the fundamental notions of the theory of signs throughout paragraph 285 (pp. 67-84) which overflows with ideas and is titled “the designation of our representations” (Bezeichnung unserer Vorstellungen).

This paragraph begins with a bilateral definition of the sign, “An object through whose conception we wish to know in a renewed fashion another conception connected therewith in a thinking being, is known to us as a sign”. A whole chain of geminate concepts follows, some of which are very new, while others, referring back to their anterior sources, are newly specified and enlarged. Thus Bolzano’s semiotic thoughts bring to the surface the difference between the meaning (Bedeutung) of a sign as such and the significance (Sinn) that this sign acquires in the context of the present circumstance, then the difference between the sign (1) produced by the addresser (Urheher) and (2) perceived by the addressee who, himself, oscillates between understanding and misunderstanding (Verstehen und Missverstehen). The author makes a distinction between the thought and expressed interpretation of the sign (gedachte und sprachliche Auslegung), between universal and particular signs, between natural and accidental signs (natürlich und züfallig), arbitrary and spontaneous (willkürlich und unwillkürlich), auditory and visual (hörbar und sichtbar), simple (einzeln) and composite (zusamengestzt, which means “a whole whose parts are themselves signs”), between unisemic and polysemic, proper and figurative, metonymical and metaphorical, mediate and immediate signs; to this classification he adds lucid footnotes on the important distinction to be made between signs (Zeichen) and indices (Kennzeichen) which are devoid of an addresser, and finally on another pressing theme, the question of the relationship between interpersonal (an Andere) and internal (Sprechen mit selbst) communication.” pp. 202-203 of the reprint.

From: Roman Jakobson, A Glance at the Development of Semiotics, in The Framework of Language. Translated from the French by Patricia Baudoin, Ann Arbor: Michigan Studies in the Humanities, Horace R. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, 1980 and reprinted in: R. Jakobson, Selected Writings. Contributions to Comparative Mythology. Studies in Linguistics and Philology, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1985 pp. 199-218.


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