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Moscow-Tartu School

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E067-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Moscow-Tartu School of semiotics (theory of signs) was formed when a diverse group of scholars joined informally from the 1950s to 1980s to provide alternatives to the regnant Soviet approaches to language, literature and culture. Their work develops the linguistics of Saussure, elaborated by Trubetzkoi and Hjelmslev, with its central notions of sign as union of signifier and signified, its distinction between language as system (langue) and language as utterance (parole), and its analysis in terms of the significant differences between paired equivalent elements in a system (that is, meaning is a matter not of individual elements, but of the relationship between comparable elements). In its early stages members of the Moscow-Tartu School did intricate analyses of lyric poetry and of highly conventional prose works (such as detective stories) using statistical and linguistic methods. They subsequently came to treat art works and other cultural artefacts as the products of ‘secondary modelling systems’, that is, as elements arranged according to rules that could be seen as language-like and hence accessible to analysis by the procedures of structuralist linguistics. The group shared an interest in Western and pre-Stalinist Russian literary theory – especially in the Russian formalists – and in contemporary linguistics, semiotics and cybernetics. In a time of pervasive intellectual stagnation this loose confederation sought to formulate objective and exact methods for literary scholarship, to republish works of Russian theory that had been repressed from the 1930s to 1950s, and to bring scholarship in the humanities into line with developments in other scholarly fields. During the 1970s prominent members of the group, such as Iu.M. Lotman and B.A. Uspenskii, turned from more theoretical and formalized work to historical studies of culture as a system of semiotic systems.

Citing this article:
Todd, William Mills. Moscow-Tartu School, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E067-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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