The Sebeok Fellow Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of the doctrine of signs.
Thomas A. Sebeok (November 9, 1920–December 21, 2001) transformed the landscape of sign studies in the 20th century. By the mid-20th century, the investigation of signs had become a major focus within intellectual culture, though generally under the label of “semiology” as introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure, and considered restricted to the cultural world of human beings. Sebeok expanded the purview of semiotics to include non-human signaling and communication systems. He is considered one of the founders of biosemiotics and was responsible, in 1963, for coining the term “zoösemiotics” in contrast to “anthroposemiotics” to bring attention to the fact that all animals – not only human animals – depend upon the actions of signs within experience.
Sebeok was renowned for his ability to bring together specialists from different fields in order to generate perspectives on the study of myth, psycholinguistics, stylistics, animal communication, and biosemiotics, among others. It was mainly Sebeok who promoted the use of the term “semiotics” rather than semiology to name the general study of signs “semiotics” (σημιωτική), as originally proposed by John Locke.
In 1975/1976, Sebeok founded the Semiotic Society of America (SSA), having already been one of the founding members of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS) in 1969 and editor of its journal, Semiotica, from 1969 until his death in 2001. Sebeok was also the editor of several book series and encyclopedias, including Approaches to Semiotics, Current Trends in Linguistics, and the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics.
By the 20th century, Sebeok’s thesis that “life science and sign science mutually imply one another,” first enunciated in his 1990 Budapest address to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, became the basis for the development of biosemiotics. Thus, Sebeok proved to be the catalyzing and coalescing figure for the development of what is everywhere recognized today as “global semiotics”, which sees the “doctrine of signs” (that Augustine, Scotus, Poinsot, Locke, Peirce, and Sebeok also called the cenoscopic “new science”) as providing the sole inherently interdisciplinary framework for the whole of knowledge.
In light of this history, the Sebeok Fellow Award was introduced in 1991 “to honor substantial career or lifetime contributions to semiotics and service to the semiotic community” through publications developing the recognition that anthroposemiosis is no more than a part of the still larger semiosis within the world of nature itself.
The title of “Sebeok Fellow” is the highest honor to be given by the Semiotic Society of America. It is presented only at two- to four-year intervals followed by the Sebeok Fellow Address at the SSA Annual Meeting and carries with it life membership in the SSA.
The Sebeok Fellowship Committee
Kalevi Kull (Chair) (2006-2014)
2003 Sebeok Fellow
University of Tartu, Estonia
Susan Petrilli (2009 to 2017)
2005 Sebeok Fellow
University of Bari, Italy
Bill Spinks (2012 to 2020)
Trinity University, Texas