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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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ERIH category 2011: INT2

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Hjelmslev's semiotic model of language: An exegesis

Miriam Taverniers

Citation Information: Semiotica. Volume 2008, Issue 171, Pages 367–394, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: 10.1515/SEMI.2008.082, September 2008

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This article offers a detailed exploration of four types of differentiations on which Hjelmslev's semiotic model of language, developed in his Prolegomena to a Theory of Language (1963 [1943]), is built: content-expression, form-substance-purport, system-process, and paradigm-syntagm. Each of these distinctions is explored in turn, and in this exploration it becomes clear how Hjelmslev defines his most important distinctions, namely, content-expression and form-substance-purport, which form the corner-stones of his stratified model of language, on different levels of abstraction. It is only by carefully considering his most abstract level of description, that the interaction between the different dimensions, and the nature of the ‘sign,’ which is explained by Hjelmslev as lying at the center of cross-cutting dimensions of differentiations, can be fully understood.

The specific nature of Hjelmslev's theory is further fleshed out by relating his distinctions to Saussure's theory of language; and by further contextualizing his model, historiographically, in the framework of (1) the earlier study of the phonic side of language in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and (2) Barthes's later reinterpretation of one of Hjelmslev's most innovative concepts, namely, the connotative semiotic.

Keywords:: structuralism; semiotics; Hjelmslev's theory of language; glossematics; definition of sign; linguistic form

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