Call for Papers – Speculative Semiotics

Guest Editor: Mattia Thibault, Gamification Group, Tampere University.




This special issue of Linguistic Frontiers aims to explore the possible and impossible futures for communication technologies or, in other words, a Speculative Semiotics.

Projects of nuclear semiotics (Sebeok 1985), focusing on how to communicate across thousands of years, showcase some of the possibilities of a semiotic approach to speculation, in particular related to imagining ways of communicating with the future and in the future.
On the one hand, we have a reflection on how to create signs that will be legible and intelligible across long periods of time, and therefore across cultures and languages. Attempts to communicate with the future have been explored in different media, as in the documentary Into Eternity (by Michael Madsen, 2010), which investigates how to communicate the dangers of the Onkalo nuclear waste repository to future generations. Attempts to communicate with alien entities have similar issues and have been faced with similar semiotic-oriented speculations. The Arecibo radio transmissions, as well as the plaques and video discs placed on board satellites were created focusing on “model readers” that are potentially very different from humans (Posner 1984), something that science fiction has also often investigated, for example in Michel Crichton’s novel Sphere (1987) or in Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival (2016).
On the other hand, speculation around future communication can focus on imagining what different forms of communication might arise in the future. Linguists have been investigating the possible evolutions of today’s languages and their changing relationships (Ostler 2010), and science fiction is full of examples of creolisation, like the Nadsat, an English slang sprayed with Slavic words, invented by Anthony Burgess for his novel A Clockwork Orange (1962). Entire fictional languages, or conlangs, have been invented to imagine communication in the future – such as the alien Klingon language (Okrent 2009, Okrand et al. 2011).
However, in order to imagine the future of communication, we are also required to imagine what means of communication might exist in a distant future including media (very often represented in fiction), but also possible different sensory prostheses that future humans might be using (Sebeok 1985). The possibility of direct communication via a neural connection to digital devices has been explore both in sci-fi and in speculative design studies (Ferri 2016).

A semiotically-oriented take on speculation, however, does need to be restricted to speculating about communication. Semiotics as a discipline can be a mean for speculation thanks to its models and analytical tools. Concepts from semiotics of culture like Lotman’s semiosphere or cultural explosions can be used to identify  possible cultural mutations, while a sociosemiotic perspective can help looking into the deep conflicts and contradictions within future societies. Biosemiotics and zoosemiotics can offer valuable perspectives for post-human or post-Anthropocene takes on the evolution of our societies.
The goal would not be to attempt to predict “correctly” the future, but instead  to use semiotically-informed speculation as a mean of reflection on the present and on the possibilities that emerge from it. In fact, some strategies for future-oriented speculation are already based on semiotic theory. It is the case of future signals – a method based on investigating for existing signs in the current cultural landscape that might indicate potential trends or avenues of evolution – which is based on the Peircean model (Hiltunen 2008).

Next to these two dimensions, the analytical nature of semiotics invites for a third one: that of an analysis and a deconstruction of the different disciplinary discourses and approaches to the future, ranging from speculative design to future studies, futurology, and forecasting. Each of these disciplines constructs its object, method and practices in ways that are, unavoidably, ideological, as, by creating predictive models, they have to realise and naturalise a set of historical, social, and political dynamics. Semiotics has dealt, in the past, with several ways of imagining and programming the future, ranging from fortune-telling (Aphek & Tobin 1989) to science fiction (Agenot 1979). The success, in academia and beyond, of discourses aiming at the imagination, exploration and construction of futures is a fertile ground for semiotic analysis that, by looking into the different texts they produce, can offer precious insights about the strategies, values and ideologies that stand behind them.

This special issue of Linguistic Frontiers aims to collect academic contributions from the fields of semiotics and linguistics as well as from speculative design, speculative anthropology, literary studies, and other areas of interest.
The issue welcomes contributions focused on the different relationships between communication and speculation, especially within the perspective of future oriented thinking. The possible topics can include, but are not limited to:
– Communicating across long periods of time
– Communication with alien lifeforms
– Future/alien media & languages
– Academic studies of possible languages and semiotic systems of the future
– Fictional representations of future languages and semiotic systems
– Discursive strategies and ideologies of future oriented disciplines (futurology, forecasting, speculative design)
– Semiotic models and tools as a means of speculation
– Future Signals

Important dates:
10 January 2022 – Deadline for expressions of interest
15 January 2022 – Notification of acceptance
30 March 2022 – Deadline for full papers
31 July 2022 – Special issue available online

Send your expressions of interest to mattia.thibault[at] and lingfrontiers[at] indicating a possible title for your contribution and a brief abstract (100-200 words).
Full papers should be submitted to lingfrontiers[at] Please be sure to check the instructions for authors and Style sheet.



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