Biosemiotics 13 (3):431-441 (2020)

Amelia Lewis
Queens University Belfast
In this paper, I discuss the concept of ‘shared meaning’, and the relationship between a shared understanding of signs within an animal social group and the Umwelten of individuals within the group. I explore the concept of the ‘Total Umwelt’, as described by Tønnesen,, and use examples from the traditional ethology literature to demonstrate how semiotic principles can not only be applied, but underpin the observations made in animal social biology. Traditionally, neo-Darwinian theories of evolution concentrate on ‘fitness’ or an organism’s capacity to survive and reproduce in its own environmental niche. However, this process also relies on underlying signs and sign processes, which are often over-looked in traditional ethology and behavioural ecology. Biosemiotics, however, places the emphasis on sign process, with signs and signals comprising a semiosphere. Significantly, whilst the semiosphere is formulated as physical phenomena, specifically energetic and material signs which can be detected and transmitted as signals from one individual to another, it is the Umwelten of living organisms which give those signals meaning. Further, two or more Umwelten can merge, giving rise to a ‘Total Umwelt’, which facilitates shared meaning of signs between two or more individuals. Across and within generations, this gives rise to cultural interpretation of signs within populations. I argue this is the fundamental basis for emergent group properties in social species, or indeed in solitary living species where individuals interact to mate, defend territories or resources, or in raising altricial young. I therefore discuss a fusion of traditional behavioural ecology- based theory with semiotics, to examine the phenomenon of ‘shared meaning’ in animal social groups.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s12304-020-09395-8
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 64,209
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Umwelt Ethics.Morten Tønnessen - 2003 - Sign Systems Studies 31 (1):281-299.

View all 7 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

What Can Be Known About Future Umwelten?Morten Tønnessen - 2019 - American Journal of Semiotics 35 (3/4):401-429.
On Collective Identity.Kay Mathiesen - 2003 - ProtoSociology 18:66-86.
The Cultural Evolution of Emergent Group-Level Traits.Paul E. Smaldino - 2014 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 37 (3):243-254.
How Fit is the Semiotic Animal?Stéphanie Walsh Matthews - 2016 - American Journal of Semiotics 32 (1/4):205-217.
Animal Groups and Social Ontology: An Argument From the Phenomenology of Behavior.Alejandro Arango - 2016 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 15 (3):403-422.
How to Create a Human Communication System.Casey J. Lister & Nicolas Fay - 2017 - Interaction Studies 18 (3):314-329.
On the Zoosemiotics of Health and Disease.Aleksei Turovski - 2002 - Sign Systems Studies 30 (1):213-218.


Added to PP index

Total views
7 ( #1,043,864 of 2,455,350 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #449,153 of 2,455,350 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes