Zoosemiotics Turns 50

Before the first day of a new year unexpectedly rolls over the horizon I wanted mention 2013 was the year zoosemiotics turned 50 years old.

In 1963 TA Sebeok introduced the world to the field of Zoosemiotics with this paragraph:

“The term zoosemiotics – constructed in an exchange between Rulon Wells and me – is proposed for the discipline, within which the science of signs intersects with ethology, devoted to the scientific study of signalling behavior in and across animal species. The basic assumption of zoosemiotics is that, in the last analysis, all animals are social beings, each species with a characteristic set of communication problems to solve.”

Sebeok saw animal signals not as the result of instinctive behaviors, or quasi-mechanical stimulus-response but as real communication, containing information, intentionality and taking place within a social context.  [see here for different view on animal information.]

Whenever we talk about dancing bees, alarm signals, mating calls, bird songs, tail-wags, perspective taking, barking dogs, chirping crickets, glowing fireflies, threat displays, appeasement signals and more, we are talking about zoosemiotics.

The word itself is not often seen; possibly because it so neatly assimilated into other fields of study – ethology, psychology, cognition, behavioral ecology, evolution  – that researchers could integrate zoosemiotic (or biosemiotic) interests without abandoning their own disciplines. 


I mention zoosemiotics because yesterday I came across this quote from Sebeok; it seemed a worthwhile idea to share as we head into 2014. Also, now if I want to write about Umwelt, I have a ready-made excuse.

I would observe that an academic is a sign’s way of spawning further, more developed academics. The administration’s task is to ensure that this process works smoothly. There are two fundamental strategies to accomplish these ends: first, by publishing and teaching as much as possible; and, equally important, by doing one’s best to facilitate the success of one’s colleagues in these respects. These are the only things I have ever wanted to do in my academic life.” (Sebeok, 1995, p.125)

Research. Publish. Teach. Facilitate.

Happy New Year.


6 thoughts on “Zoosemiotics Turns 50

  1. Happy New Year to you too. Thanks for all the interesting posts this year.

  2. Pingback: Zoosemiotics Turns 50 | Responsible Dog ~ It's all about dogs

      • Thank you. I try to find “the best” when I’m out there “surfing”. The ones mentioned are very knowledgeable in their field and also very productive posting. As I said it’s first and foremost an acknowledgement of their hard work.
        Hope you have a good weekend!!

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