Algirdas Julien Greimas bigraphy, stories - Linguists

Algirdas Julien Greimas : biography

9 March 1917 - 27 February 1992

Algirdas Julien Greimas (1917-1992) (born Algirdas Julius Greimas), known among other things for the Greimas Square (le carré sémiotique), is considered, along with Roland Barthes, the most prominent of the French semioticians. With his training in structural linguistics, he added to the theory of signification and laid the foundations for the Paris School of Semiotics. Among Greimas's major contributions to semiotics are the concepts of isotopy, the actantial model, the narrative program, and the semiotics of the natural world. He also researched Lithuanian mythology and Proto-Indo-European religion, and was influential in semiotic literary criticism.



Greimas's first published essay "Cervantes ir jo don Kichotas" ("Cervantes and his Don Quixote") came out in the literary journal Varpai, which he helped to found, during the period of alternating Nazi and Soviet occupations of Lithuania. Although a review of the first Lithuanian translation of Don Quixote, it addressed partly the issue of one's resistance to circumstances – even when doomed, defiance can at least aim at the preservation of one's dignity (Nebijokime būti donkichotai, "Let's not be afraid to be Don Quixotes"). The first work of direct significance to his subsequent research was his doctoral thesis "La Mode en 1830. Essai de description du vocabulaire vestimentaire d' après les journaux de modes de l'époque" ("Fashion in 1830. A Study of the Vocabulary of Clothes based on the Fashion Magazines of the Times").{{Cite journal | contribution = La Mode en 1830. Essai de description du vocabulaire vestimentaire d' après les journaux de modes de l'époque. | title = thèse principale pour le Doctorat ès-lettres | publisher = Université de Paris | place = Paris | year = 1948| id = | format = examplaire dactylographié | quote = Republished with corrections in: Algirdas Julien Greimas (Thomas F. Broden and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick, eds.): La mode en 1830, langage et société: écrits de jeunesse. Paris: Presse universitaires de France, 2000. ISBN 2-13-050488-4 | postscript = }} He left lexicology soon after, acknowledging the limitations of the discipline in its concentration on the word as a unit and in its basic aim of classification, but he never ceased to maintain his lexicological convictions. He published three dictionaries throughout his career. During his decade in Alexandria, the discussions in his circle of friends helped broaden his interests. The topics included Greimas's early influences – the works of the founder of structural linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure and his follower, Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev, the initiator of comparative mythology Georges Dumézil, the structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Russian specialist in fairy tales Vladimir Propp, the researcher into the aesthetics of theater Étienne Souriau, the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the psychoanalyst Gaston Bachelard, and the novelist and art historian André Malraux.


Greimas proposed an original method for discourse semiotics that evolved over a thirty-year period. His starting point began with a profound dissatisfaction with the structural linguistics of the mid-century that studied only phonemes (minimal sound units of every language) and morphemes (grammatical units that occur in the combination of phonemes). These grammatical units could generate an infinite number of sentences, the sentence remaining the largest unit of analysis. Such a molecular model did not permit the analysis of units beyond the sentence.

Greimas begins by positing the existence of a semantic universe that he defined as the sum of all possible meanings that can be produced by the value systems of the entire culture of an ethno-linguistic community. As the semantic universe cannot possibly be conceived of in its entirety, Greimas was led to introduce the notion of semantic micro-universe and discourse universe, as actualized in written, spoken or iconic texts. To come to grips with the problem of signification or the production of meaning, Greimas had to transpose one level of language (the text) into another level of language (the metalanguage) and work out adequate techniques of transposition.

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