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.
Purposes of the Award
The Sebeok Fellow Award was introduced in 1991 to fulfill several purposes.
- To honor a living scholar’s substantial career or lifetime scholarly contributions to the discipline of Semiotics;
- To commend substantial professional service to the SSA;
- To recognize the unique contribution of American Semiotics to the wider international community of semiotic scholarship;
- To remember that exemplary systematic scholarship sustains the discipline of Semiotics.
- Lifetime or substantial career contribution to Semiotics;
- Service to the semiotic community through research publications, professional leadership, and teaching mentorship;
- Program of semiotic research publication focused on either one particular theorist (e.g., Peirce, Sebeok, Eco), or a school or tradition of thought (e.g., phenomenology, structuralism), or a cognate discipline (e.g., biology, ethics, linguistics, logic); or
- Demonstrated commitment to semiotic transdisciplinary dialogue in the spirit of Thomas A. Sebeok.
The Sebeok Award is limited to one successful nomination per year (in the past it was every 2 to 4 years). In the rare event that the Sebeok Award Committee cannot reach a unanimous decision, no award will be given that year. The next selection will fall to a new committee with a new member rotating into membership the following year.
Nature of Award
The honoree is awarded the permanent title “SSA Sebeok Fellow”; that title is the highest honor given by the Semiotic Society of America.
The honoree presents the Sebeok Fellow Address at a plenary session at the next Annual Conference, with appropriate designation in the published Conference Program. That address is subsequent published in The American Journal of Semiotics.
The honoree receives a free permanent membership in SSA (or an Honorary Membership for members not resident in North America as per Article IV, sec. 1 (d) of the Constitution).
The honoree also receives a “Plaque Award” presented by the Sebeok Award Committee Chair or one of its members at an appropriate time during the Annual Conference; free hotel and conference fees for the conference at which the Sebeok Fellow Address is presented; and, if the SSA budget permits, a limited address honorarium payment.
SSA Sebeok Fellows
Nathan Houser (2019)
Vincent Colapietro (2018)
Paul Cobley (2014)
Irmengard Rauch (2011)
Susan Petrilli (2008)
Floyd Merrell (2005)
Kalevi Kull (2003)
Jesper Hoffmeyer (2000)
Paul Bouissac (1996)
John Deely (1993)
David Savan (1992)
The Sebeok Fellowship Committee
Gila Safran-Naveh (Chair) (2018 to 2022)
University of Cincinnati
Vincent Colapietro (2019 to 2023), 2018 Sebeok Fellow
University of Pennsylvania
Nathan Houser (2020 to 2024), 2019 Sebeok Fellow