The ‘Greimas’ or Semiotic Square
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The ‘Greimas’ or Semiotic Square

The semiotic square is a way of extending the analysis of meanings by increasing the number of analytical classes around some initial focus – the assumption is Saussure’s: that meaning will, in fact, exist as part of a semantic field articulated through difference. It is usual to begin with the identification of contrary meaning. For example, starting with the familiar contraries of life and death, the square makes explicit the possibility of such curiosities as life and death (the living dead?), and neither life nor death (ghosts?). With its full expansion the semiotic square offers us 10 analytic classes.

The ten classes with terminology:-

5=(1+2) complex term

2 term B

1 term A

7=(1+3) positive deixis

8=(2+4) negative deixis

9=(1+4) and 10=(2+3)


4 term NOT-A

3 term NOT-B

6=(3+4) neutral term

The + sign indicates the location of synthesis points – called metaterms. Other aspects of a typical analysis are objects (things identified at class positions), subjects (those doing the classifying), and time (the narrativised event context).

So, the semiotic square is composed of four terms, the first two form the opposition (the contrary relation) and the other two are produced through their negation. Here’s another worked and expanded example:-

5. Masculine+Feminine


1. Masculine ‘man’

2. Feminine ‘woman’

8. Feminine+Not-masculine


7. Masculine+Not-feminine

‘ultra man’

9? and 10?

3. Not-feminine ‘mannish’

4. Not-masculine ‘effeminate’.

6. Not-feminine+Not-masculine ‘angel’

On page 131 of your first hand-out Jameson uses an adaptation of the semiotic square to bring out particular relationships in Stapledon’s Starmaker,


1. The One nautiloid

2. Dualism the symbionts (external)

7. The STARS


9? and 10?

3. Non-Dualism plant peopleinternalized dualism prosthesis industry

4. The Many

the swarm mobility


COMPLEX TERM adaptation of the semiotic square to bring out particular relationships in Stapledon’s

(‘for’ and ‘against’ all at once


1. FOR

4. NOT ‘FOR’


NEUTRAL TERM (neither ‘for’ nor ‘against’)

On page 178 of your second hand-out, Jameson reminds his readers of a simplified reading of the semiotic square; it will be the precursor of his concluding diagram on page 181.

COMPLEX TERM adaptation of the semiotic square to bring out particular relationships in Stapledon’s

Space of substantive representation: the garden city the postmodern sprawl

COUNTRY nature or Being (the family?)

CITY society (the individual?)

The cultural (politics)

The material (economics)

CRITIQUE OF THE CITY Overpopulation. Filth and disease. Immorality, consumerism, addiction.

CRITIQUE OF THE COUNTRY critique of authenticity, anti-foundationalism, anti-essentialism, anti-ontology.

* Agglomeration of separate individuals anomie, solitude, the additive (bad infinity)

NEUTRAL TERM Collective free choice Space of freedom beyond nature. Neither materialism nor idealism (unthematizable)

* ‘rural idiocy,’ bigotry of the village, superstition, the identical